If there was a place on dry land Clark called home, it was not faraway England, but Eleuthera. He had conquered the small port and brought it under english rule. The local buccaneer clans submitted to the governor for this one reason: The knew that Captain Clark could return anytime.
Since the battle for Eleuthera, the english government had placed fishermen along the beach.
Planters, merchants and adventurers had flocked to the island, so that one could get the impression Eleuthera town was a normal town. In truth it met the description in the same way sharks were edible fish: under certain conditions. Less dangerous the predators had not become, just because the english flag was now flapping in the wind. But they had learned to swim into a different direction… at least most of the time…
“A good place to die surrounded by everything that made up my life”, Clark described the place where he planned to spend his retirement. “But not anytime soon!”
When the Errant Eagle approached Eleuthera, Martin became ponderous. Whipcrack and Viviane did not notice the darkening of his mood. They stood to the acting captain´s left and right, supervising the landing process together with him.
Chips joined the three.
“Everytime I make myself aware of that this town is ours, my innards rebel”, the carpenter admitted.
Martin folded his arms. “I´ve heard this often enough, now”, he said. “Clark took Eleuthera from another nation in a coup? Which one?”
“None, actually”, Viviane explained. “This it was a pretty lawless place to begin with, a pirate haven.”
Chips nodded. “Clark wasn´t older than twenty back then, but when he was done with Eleuthera, his victory was complete and the english flag was hoisted over the island. What was more important: After this raid we had become a real crew. We believed we could get away with everything we wanted!”
“Between Cuba and St. Augustine there wasn´t another gang like the eagles”, Whipcrack added from his own memories. “They mainly farmed the Bahamas for loot, but the tales of their exploits reached us in Coro very soon.”
“Everytime we sailed into our secure port we left more money there than we had to”, Viviane went on. “Garcia was furious the first few times! He accused Clark of doing it all wrong. Instead of paying, we should charge protection money from the settlement, he said. Then one day Don Escobedo was at our heels. He chased us till Eleuthera, but found it´s fortress too hard a nut to crack.”
Chips pointed out the town´s defences to Martin. They consisted mainly of a small keep that was towering over the town. From here attackers could be pelted with cannonballs. The military section of the harbour as well as the better parts of the town were surrounded by a wooden palisade that sat on a solid rock foundation.
“Look here! And there! It doesn´t look like much, but Escobedo had expected nothing more solid than earthen walls. He wasn´t prepared for what the english governor had managed to raise with the help from Clark´s investions.”
Eventually the galleon had reached her place within the fortified area of the harbour.
Martin stared sternwards, to the spot where a massive chain ran through the water, securing the entrance. The setup reminded him of a prison.
When an officer cadet appeared at the quay with an invitation for the Errant Eagle´s captain, Clark did not hesitate to accept it. In fact, the captain took his mingling with the island’s government for granted. On their way to the governor’s residence he told Martin about the local rulership, that consisted of the governor and his wife, the fortress commander and crafty Admiral Goodrick
“I haven’t seen the Falcon in port”, Clark chatted away. “So I assume the latter’s out pirate-hunting. If ships were swords, the Falcon’s a kitchen knife. The Admiral, however, taught me a lot.”
To Martin each step felt as heavy as a walk up to the gallows. Had he not wanted to escape from this? True, this backwater place could in no way compare with Fort-de-France or Providence, but still…
Martin´s spirits sank even more, when Governor Langley, after a warm welcome for his guests, announced that he was planning a ball event: “Considering the situation in England, I think it is inevitable to assure the local nobility and our trading partners that nothing has changed here. We need to demonstrate not only our dependibility, but also our readieness to defend against assaults of military or pirate nature.”
Clark agreed: “A worthy goal..”
“…you won´t be able to exclude yourself from helping achieve”, Martin grumbled.
The pirate found himself exposed and in the centre of the english nobleman’s full attention. He could not help but shiver ever so sligthly while the man sized him up. It almost seemed to Martin as if this Sir Langley wanted to probe into his innermost core – and that it would cost him only little effort.
“Obviously you got hurt by someone of my standing”, Governor Langley adressed the captain. “Or you come from a noble family. The differences are fleeting here.”
Martin had no answer ready. But Sir Langley spoke on already anyway: “You are on the run, that much is certain. And you will be driving yourself farther, even after the last bounty hunter has lost your trail and given up. Well, your Letter de Marque does not require any sort of concession that go beyond it´s letters from me. But I have a piece of advice for you nevertheless.”
“Speak!” Martin almost spat out the word. He hadn´t felt that spiteful since the day he had been told that he would have to leave behind his friends and toys to go on a voyage across the ocean.
“You should start looking for something”, Langley said. “Not a place to run from, but a destination to run to.”
Martin waved his hand.
“When I had reached the goal set for me, pirates sank my ship and enslaved me, Governor. One should think this answers which lifestyle is the smarter one.”
“I did not make myself clear enough, it seems”, the englishman noted. “You shall start your search. There´s no need to understand the wisdom of it yet.”
“Did you dish out the same advice to Clark?”
“I meant to”, Governor Langely admitted. “But upon our first meeting, another counseling deemed me more appropriate to help preserve our mutual friend´s continued health.”
“If you wish to keep your fingers, you put that back at once, you little rat!“ Langley quoted his own words from so many years ago. Before Clark could protest, the noble already justified himself with the words: “Captain, please! Thievery in the house of Sir Rupert of Gloucester´s? While you were suspected of having kidnapped his niece already?”
“I did not kidnap Miss Jenny”, Clark clarified. “Not in the traditional sense, at least. Anyway, she never complained about it!”
Martin laughed out loud! “The nobleman´s niece – and what else did you want to relieve this Gloucester person of?”
“That´s for our host to show you”, Clark answered. “Sir Langley, would you be willing to show my friend your collection? As you know by now, since I became aware of those treasures´ exact nature, I´m no longer interested in owning them.”
The governor needed no further persuasion to present his trophies to the guest.
“More scrolls?” Martin inquired while the three of them took the stairs up to a chamber under the roof.
“Much better!” Clark promised. “I just would not want to keep those things in my own home. You know, actually it´s something you can find in any crypt…”
The weak afternoon sun shone through a single window in the room´s west side. There was still enough light to see everything clearly, though. Spread across pedestals, tables and shelves lay strange structures, with the choice items resting on silken cushions. Their forms were many, alien, yet familiar to a certain degree. There were things that looked like supersized snails shells, but also perfectly normal crabs and then again severed limbs of landbound critters Martin could not identify from just a casual look.
Did Sir Langley keep his hunting trophys in the form of skeletal remains only, the visitor wondered? At first he felt taken back to Lizard Island, but then he realized that what he had taken for bones were objects of stone instead. Many of those were not even loose, but embedded almost fully into limestone.
“They are called fossils”, Clark explained. “Remains of creatures that are no longer part of the Good Lord´s creation.” Awed he strolled through the room, re-familiarizing himself with the exhibits. “Can you guess how many worms, shells and fishes cast in stone our host owns? Dozens, and not two of them identical. Threesee in St. Kitts would kill for each single piece – but when we want to make an impression on the less scientifically inclined, we show them this specimen. Come over here!”
Clark and Langley positioned themselves next to a table close to the center of the room. A single, long thigh lay there. Martin measured it with the help of his flat hand first, then with his arm. “Normal human proportions assumed, this leg´s owner was twenty four feet tall!” he calculated. “But we are not talking humans here, right?”
“It´s a giant´s thigh”, Langley explained. “All the animals you see here drowned in the big flood. Many of them were the last of their kind.”
“And all life reversed to clay again”, Martin whispered, impressed.
“Close”, Clark grinned. He knocked on one of the stone tablet. “Rock is more like it, I´d say.”
Martin studied the object. With it´s head bent back, the neck twisted and it´s arms torn from the body, a creature the sign of a chicken lay embedded into the rock. It was neither bird nor reptile. Thin lines marked the spots where feathers had covered those delicate bones once.
“The little dragon is my favourite”, Clark admitted. “Jenny´s, too. Her uncle Rupert did not care about her feelings when he sold it away to Sir Langley for mere money…”
For a few seconds the captain seemed lost in his memory, then he said: “But what really gives one food for thought is the sheer number of fishes and sea creatures that became stone. Such animals are at home in the waters, but it did not help them to survive the deluge. They just could not withstand the forces unleashed back then.”
Governor Langley presented the two captains more highlights of his collection. Some of them he had dug up with his own hands, others recieved from friends all around the known world. He owned a horned skull of a creature he had come to call Behemoth and several fossilized eggs. A stonemason had cut open some of them, but the contents defied identification and classification.
“Come to think of it, it´s rather macabre”, Sir Langley admitted. “Like watching a hanged man´s body – the difference being that those remains never decay. On the other hand side, keeping those mementos for future generations to see could be considered a pious endeavour.”
Martin strolled through the room in fascination. Even squalid Eleuthera had been able to surprise him with something new in the end! Now the man was fully convinced that leaving Martinique had been the right thing to do.
Two days later the ball took place. The invited guests belonged to the english, french, spanish and portuguese nation. Some uninvited, but expected, gatecrashers had made their entrance, too, and nobody was overly surprised at the arrival of a spruced up indian chief by name of King Aripei along with his armed escort.
Impressing all those people was no small task and Governor Langley knew this all too well. Eleuthera´s small garrison´s supply of officers was as short as that of true nobility. Only a handful of the plantation owners were blue-blooded younger sons of unimportant families who had not much to expect from life. Eleuthera´s citizenery was a motely collection of individuals, just like the eagles. Many of those calling themselves merchants or shipowners were pirates. Some of them ranked quite high in the hierarchy of the criminal underworld of Westindia, but each one understood instinctively, that the true sharks had entered the scene, once the men and women of the Errant Eagle arrived in town. Clark´s officers moved through the crowd like princes, his seamen like favoured courtiers. Those citizens who had heard about the mutiny now saw the threesome of Captain Clark, Whipcrack Werner and Viviane Riet in a cosy trinity. The sight conveyed to townspeople and guests alike that what had happened between the trio before was of nobody´s concern and that it would be too complicated for them to grasp anyway.
Each demonstration of the eagles´ power and unity was not showing-off for vanity’s sake, but plain neccessity. Being able to defeat an opponent anytime was nice, but discouraging rivals to try it at all was far more efficient!
As per the agreement with Sir Langley, the higher ranking among the eagles would pose as guests at the ball, the common sailors as servants. A handful of other pirate ship´s had gotten offered the same deal. Governor Langley thus created impression of ruling over many more subjects of any station than he actually did.
The newcomer Peter Korthals had been allowed to pose as an enterpreteur from Eleuthera, even though he ranked not particularily high among the eagles. But the dutchman was well-mannered and knew how to move though the upper tiers of society, so he had been a natural choice. However, the young man declined. “I´d rather watch the ship”, he said.
“Voluntarily?” Clark probed. “Done anything wrong my leutnants have yet to pin on you, kid?”
“No, nothing like this, Captain. My conscience´s clear, when it comes to your code at least. But I used to be an upstanding citizen and now I´m a pirate. Playing what I once was, would hurt too much.”
“We are privateers”, Clark instinctively gave his usual reply.
“Yes, you englishmen are” Korthals agreed. “It´s different for me. I´m so glad we´re preying on the spaniards mostly, that´s a good thing my people at home can understand. And once we´ve gotten ourselves the silver, I´ll return home, never to look back again. That´s all I can think of, Clark. Please don´t force me into the governor´s charade!”
“Alright. As you wish.”
“Dresscode?” Clark heard with half a hear, upon entering the ball-room. “What do you mean, dresscode? One is always dressed correctly in a cuirass!”
Clark´s neckhair rose, when he recognized the speaker´s accent as a spanish one.
“Well, look what we have here! Isn´t this guy almost as arrogant as me?”
The spaniard – an officer of the infantery – took a few steps toward the arrival. His features betrayed pure loathing of the man he had heard about so much.
“I doubt it”, the officer said. “You, “Capitano” Clark, cannot compare to me in anything, not even when it comes to out vices. For instance I would…”
The englishman laughed dismissingly. “Typical beginner´s mistake, amigo”, he enlightened his opponent. “You cannot convince me of anything, because I will simply listen, smile and then walk away in the firm knowledge of my superiority.”
Martin, standing not far from the duo, blinked. Did those two really discuss who was more aloof? Ah, well, the man concluded, pirate-havens, even if they pretended to be no such crime holes anymore, ought to have different standards from Fort-de-France. The place began to grow on the captain. It was still a whole lot saner than Tortuga.
“See, Martin?” James Perry adressed his captain. “that´s the reason why England and Spain must never make peace: They could produce more than one Captain Clark.”
The eagles´ treasurer was lazing around in a high armchair. Even as he spoke, he put down notes on cheap paper.
“You do not like partying much, James?” Martin probed, still smiling about Perry´s remark.
“I do, normally, but I´ve got no time for it, today, Captain. I´m too busy keeping up with the bets.”
Perry looked up from his paperwork.
“You see, playing servant or officer isn´t exactly our men´s favourite pasttime. So I decided to spice it up for them, to make it a kind of game they might enjoy…”
“Clark would never have thought of this”, Martin thought. “He just assumes that everyone and everything plays along with his wishes.”
“What have you got so far?” he asked Perry.
“Whipcrack bets that Clark will bait the spanish infanterist into a duel, just by being civil and polite. Jarundo counters that Clark isn´t capable of being civil, let alone polite. Then there are two bets about you. I won´t disclose the poor souls´ names to you, though.”
“Is that so?”
“One claims you will bed the brunette in the flowing saphire-blue gown. The other says it will not neccessarily be the saphire-lady, but at least three gals, before the night is done.”
Perry raised his head, gleaning over the armchair´s back into the ballroom. “Looks like Whipcrack´s going to get rich”, he commented on what happened in Captain Martin’s back. “Spainy and the Shark seem to have come to a conclusion who´s the bigger arsehole.”
“It´s past time”, Captain Clark told the armoured man, “your rundown empire accepted it´s place in the second row. But we are generous people. Why else, do you think, did the governor invite your kind today? Sir Langley likes fossils. He collects old and worthless rubbish!”
“Insults out of the mouth of a mere pirate”, the spaniard shot back, “with nothing to his name?”
Martin winced at this. The guest had dealt his blow to Clark´s most vulnurable spot. All his skill as a mariner, his intellect and his warrior´s ability did not make Captain Clark something better than a criminal. The privateer was infamous, but far as Martin could tell he had no name to speak of, no ancestors of note, no land property, and no fortune that wasn´t stolen from someone else. Martin expected an outbreak of anger to compensate his friend´s feeling of inferiority, but it did not come. Clark just kept smiling. He looked at his opponent as if pitying him, then explained to him that true arrogance did not care about substantial deeds in the least.
“That´s why I thought you were good at it, at first”, he added.
Everything that had needed saying had been said. The only possible reply got spoken. The two men bowed bowed to each other, then they left the ballroom to go over with their duel this very hour.
“I´m not guilty here”, Clark grinned, when he passed Martin and Perry on his way out. “The other one insisted on a brawl between gentlemen!”
Perry´s lips formed three words without a sound: “Well done, Captain!”
Martin joined the duelists, offering to act as second for his friend. The spaniard motioned for his adjutant to assume that role for him and then the four men exited the ballroom through a curtain made from wooden pearls. They found themselves on a balcony that surrounded the residence. Ornamental spires secured even the most rambunctious children against falling down – but probably not full grown men wounded in their honor.
The spanish hidalgo had lived through many a fight on the spires of his own castello. But against Clark his tactics just did not work out. Soon as the man thought to have secured an advantage by jumping onto the spires, instead of targeting his chest, Clark slashed out against his opponent’s ankles. With his maneuvre he nullified the spaniard´s firm footing, then followed through with a second and third attack in short sucession. While the hidalgo was still staggering, Clark shoved him over the balustrade with his elbow.
The rustling of leaves, the sound of a branch breaking and an angry scream could be heard, followed by the slam of a body to the ground. His opponent´s groans of pain Clark could not hear from up on the balcony. He placed one foot on the spires, turned his head to the second spaniard and said: “I´m positive your liege´s now bleeding in some spot and since we decided on a duel to the first blood that makes me the winner. Hurry down and check! I´ll be waiting here, in case I should err.”
“Bleed in some spot?!” the spaniard flared up. “He could have broken every bone!”
“And that proves that one´s only dressed correctly in a cuirass, if one knows how to move in it”, Clark replied.
Fuming with rage the second strode away, re-entered the building and disappeared from sight.
Martin leaned against the spires.
“For a moment I thought you´d gut the man right where he stood in the ballroom”, he admitted. “A high birthrank, a fancy name… I was under the impression you shared his opinion that those are the things that matter. You sounded differrently in your funeral oration in Wilhelmstad, though…”
Clark seemed to weigh answering Martin´s question against throwing the friend after the spaniard. He decided for the first option.
“I thought, that you had all these things, Francois”, the privateer elaborated, “and that you are known for recognizing a good deal when one presents itself. So if you threw away title and family fortune, those things cannot be worth much, can they?”
Martin folded his arms. “You do not fully belief what you say”, he stated.
Clark had no reply to his. Men like Langley, Martin and Jarundo wielded weapons he knew no defense against.
Meanwhile Chips put down a tray onto the buffet table. He carefully placed empty glasses on it, filled them and headed out again into the hall again. Even though the man was one of those crewmembers who had to play a servant, it did not mean that the party had nothing to offer to him. Out of sight of the lords and ladies the servants, too, had a merry time. More than one plate found it´s way back to the kitchens only half-empty. But Chips should have known that his shipmates would not resign to keeping a low profile and dining on leftovers for long. So he should not have been surprised when he found Freddie sitting between the food, the child´s legs dangling from the table.
“No, thank you very much, that was very obliging of you, Chief Langley”, the carpenter heard King Aripei say. “But we do not eat humans for food. It´s more a ceremonial action, you see?”
“What do you mean?” Sir Langley asked, alarm bells ringing in his head.
His guest pointed at the boy sitting on the buffet table.
Chips gesticulated in an apologizing way. “I´ll sort this out”, his eyes conveyed.
“Alfred Sulpicius Winston!” he yelled at his nephew. “Did we not tell you to serve as a waiter?”
Alfred beamed. “Yes!”
“But you aren´t doing so!”
The boy´s facial expression did not change in the least when he answered: “No!”
Chips raised his hand to slap the child, but Freddie was faster. “The ananas halves filled with cream are a real treat, uncle Sulpicius!” he said, blocking Chip´s hand with one. Chips´ hand sank deep into the cream. Between his fingers he felt tiny cube-shaped bits of fruit-flesh moving. Alfred drew back his makeshift shield. He started scratching out the remaining cream whle Chips licked clean his fingers.
“You are right”, he confirmed. “They are really very good. Fetch us some more!”
When Martin and Clark re-entered the ball-room, they found Chips leaning against the table, his nephew still sitting on it, handing the adult choice parts of the buffet to try.
Governor Langley sighed in resignation.
“I suppose it doesn´t matter”, he said. “The two of them act more civilized than that dutch wholesaler over there…”
“I´ve heard tell”, a lady adressed Clark, “that your shipwright will have enough money to buy the title to get away with his behaviour anytime, after you are done with your next operation, Captain?”
Clark recognized his old aquaintance from Escapio Domingo. He held out his arm.
“If I remember correctly, you actively disliked talking about tactics and military operations, Lady Janice.”
The woman laughed!
“You are right, Captain! War is only good for killing men and boring women to death. No more speaking of it. Let´s dance!”
From his earliest childhood on Clark had loved to dance, whether it were the exuberant jumps of the sailors or the more regulated figure dancing in uncle Rupert’s estate. Dancing wasn’t just about moving, it was a way to demonstrate your fitness and, by means of the jewelery you wore, success. Look at me, every step and swing of his arm said, here I am, I’ve come out whole, I’m the shark of the seven seas, but I do not threaten you, for, see, it’s all just play. Look at my finely honed body! Wouldn’t that form be worthy to gift it’s semen to yours? Granted, the last part would have proved rather difficult in Clark’s case, but even through he could not deliver, he enjoyed the prancing just like the nexbest man.
To his greatest dismay, Martin found that Clark proved his equal on the dancefloor.
“Look at him!” he complained to his friend Pierre. “Where has he of all people learned courtly dances?”
The other man shook his head.
“Look? You´d better listen to the music, my friend! Sir Langley did not exactly hire the most talented of musicians. Do you hear how one of them loses the beat all the time? Most of the backwoodsmen here stumble after him and wonder why their steps won´t work out. Not so Clark. Clark dances to the music as it should be played, not to the tune he actually hears. This morning he said any man apt at mathematics is a good dancer, too. Seems to me he was as right as right gets.”
Elsewhere in the hall Whipcrack decided to skip the next dance. Close to despair he appealed to his lifemate: “Please reconsider, dear! For me!”
“What´s the matter?” Aberforth Harris asked. In his hand he held a glass that’s contents consisted of the vestiges of several other drinks mixed together. Harris seemed to enjoy the potent result a lot.
Together with the doctor, Marita and Creed appeared. As Jarundo´s female company Marita received about the same attention as a stylish walking cane or handkerchief and Viviane did not fare any better, despite her being one of the Errant Eagle´s senior officers. The male seaman Creed in contrast enjoyed the same respect the gentlemen would pay to a proper leutnant. Unlike Clark, none of those two cared about their perception in another’s eyes, however.
“It´s this stupid dance I cannot even remember the name of”, Whipcrack explained. “It´s supposed to be the ball´s highlight and you´ve got to give your lady her favourite flowers beforehand. In a bucket.”
“Bouquet”, Harris corrected.
“Alright, in a french bucket, that´s all he same to me”, Whipcrack replied. “If you are so smart, can you tell me where I´ve got to get orchids from? Now? Because they are Viviane´s favourite flowers.”
“Well”, the pharmacist started, “I do know a source, indeed. I was planning to, er, harvest it myself tomorrow morning.” Harris took a sip from his drink, then he snipped his fingers and added: “If you go after the orchids, you could as well get me the ingredients I need.”
“Favour for favour”, the dutchman agreed.
“Splendid! The flowers are a bit hard to reach, though”, Harris revealed to his shipmate. “You´ll want to equip yourself and rouse your burglary skills.”
“To go though a flowerbed on my knees?!”
“I never said it was a flowerbed, Whipcrack”, Harris grinned. “It´s more like a real bed. The orchids are in a vase on the nightstand of the lady of the house, Maude Langley.”
“You can´t be serious!” Whipcrack moaned. “And the ingredients?”
“Just take every phial you can find in the room. Should be as easy as picking flowers for you.”
“You are going to pay for this, Abe!” the dutchman threatened.
“What – for helping you out of a tight spot? How rude!”
Without a further word, Whipcrack hustled out of the hall to employ his long neglected thieving skills once again. Only the admirering look on his wife´s face brightened his mood a bit.
“Hm”, Chat Creed murmured. “And what´s growing within reach? Can you tell me the names of the bloom-stuff in the gardens, Doc?”
“Why the sudden interest?”
“Simple! I´m going to tell the ladies what plants are available and if their favourite flower is on the list, they can raise their hands.”
Marita and Viviane erupted into laughter!
“You… you cannot…” Marita was labouring for breath. Eventually she enlightened Creed that he could not roll call the ladys.
“Why not? You and Viviane here answer to it!”
Viviane interrupted her friend: “No, Marita, let him! I want to see it! How often, do you think, will we get to see something like this again in our lifes?”
Marita considered this, then she nodded.
“You are right. This will be fun!”
“Where are the men from the Errant Eagle?” the governor´s wife inquired a bit later.
“Out in the fresh air for a while, I suppose.”
“Now that you mention it”, the commander of the fortress added in, “things have calmed down, indeed, now that only the presentable individuals remain in the hall.”
“Whom do you refer to, Captain Sidney?” Lady Langley shot back. “Captain Martin and Pierre Dupont? Do you really prefer renegade french noblemen to honorable english privateers of lower birth? I exchanged a few words with Dupont and I can tell you, he´s a pirate through and through. Mister Creed, on the other hand side, was a street urchin from Eleuthera – and think about how much our town owes to him, too! I would gladly… aiiiiiiieeeeeeee!”
Commander Sidney and Sir Langley turned around, to check what had terrified Maude like this. At first they saw Marita and Viviane, who steadied each other, laughing hysterically. The other ladies stared piqued or outright disgusted, some even frightened, at the shapes returning into the ballroom: Covered all over with mud, leaving behind them large lumps of earth while they were walking, but grinning up to their ears, came men whose individual features were hardly recognizeable anymore in some cases. Each of the men carried a bunch of flowers in his arms. A few scratchs running over Whipcrack´s face betrayed the fact that the pirate´s thieving skills had suffered in those two years that he had spent in wealth.
“Remove the roots!” Creed hissed to a tobacco planter, for some of the locals had followed the eagles´ example. The man obeyed. He gave the roots to a servant, who took them between two fingers. While carrying the away the plant material, the men held it as far from his body as possible.
“I feel forced to agree with you, Lady Maude”, the Commander remarked. “There really are few differences between our most valued citizens and Captain Clark´s men. At best in their eye color. Not that anything else would be clearly recgonizeable, mind you…”
To the amusement of the still clean guests, just that moment handsome male and female slaves carried baskets filled with already prepared bouquets into the hall. Each suitably clothed man chose one of those to give it to his dancing partner.
Captain Clark still hesitated doing the same. Suddenly he heard Whipcrack’s voice behind him: “Please! Ask my wife to dance, Clark!”
“Um… is that a sort of a trick question?”
“I do not want Viviane to miss this dance. We both did not know about this… the flowers being already tied up and all. But do not give her orchids! I´m the only one she´s to get orchids from!”
Clark shook his head. He emptied his glass of wine into the leutnant´s face.
“Hey!” Whipcrack wiped the liquid off his face witth both hands. “What was that for? Is it asked too much for a man to see his wife happy?!”
The privateer captain examined Werner´s appearance after the shower. “
No big deal”, he commented, “Face and hands are clean, what more could one ask for?”
From one of the armchairs scattered around the hall Clark picked a coat that someone had left behind.
“Remove your dirt-stained shirt and put this over your vest instead!” he told the dutchman. “It´ll do.”
“You tell me I´m to enter the dance floor like this? The people will…”
“They will remember who owns this town”, Clark rumbled.
Then he watched with satisfaction how Jarundo and Marita, Whipcrack and Viviane and Martin and the saphire-lady paired up. Even little Freddie grabbed a bouquet from one of the baskets. Proudly he presented it to a black kitchen girl of about his age.
One by one the women present were led to the dance floor. But noblewomen and those who pretented to be, were in large supply in Eleuthera. The privateer captain approached a stranger instead, a girl who had seen him struggling at the stake and leading her tribe´s warriors into battle within the course of a single day already: the indian chief´s daughter.
“You are too old to dance with your father like a child does, princess”, he told the youth. Aripei nodded his permission and then Clark led the only real king´s daughter among the lesser nobles and the nouveaux riches to the dancefloor.
“I´m afraid”, Perry remarked to his fellow mud covered sufferers who were standing alone without a dancing partner, “Eleuthera town won´t forget this night for years to come!”
“Si”, a rather crestfallen hidalgo in a dented cuirass agreed.
The night went on. Then came the morning. The sun rose into the sky, set again and eventually, how much time had passed since the ball Clark could no longer tell, the former privateer captain stood at the forum of Providence. He hardly remembered his expedition to Cuba and the attack on the Silver Caravan, but it had been a rousing success.
Clark gently stroked his uniform that marked him as a flag officer. He even had a first name now: Nikolaus, his father´s name, appreviated “Nick”, which suited the disguised woman fine, because it sounded like “nickname” this way.
Nick looked around, studying the assembled crowd.
“Hang the scum!” the people shouted and: “The pirates are going to hang!”
Sir Nick Brackenridge-Gloucester, admiral of the crown, needed no further urging. The citizens of Providence should share his triumph, should watch the remaining survivors of the pirate crew dangling. At first the least important, the faceless followers, were executed and there was no mercy. Only Bob Benson the sorcerer escaped the rope today, because a trial of a different sort awaited him. All the other companions of the Black Dog had to die. Not even ten years old Alfred did escape his fate and she-pirate Viviane begged for her husband´s life to no avail. “Hold her firm!” the admiral ordered his soldiers. “The she-rat is to see the bastard struggle before it’s her turn!”
Composed better than Sir Nick would have thought, James Perry stepped up to the gallows next. “You know why I´m standing here today”, he adressed the pirate hunter. “Because those few rights you grant us seamen are ignored and trampled on by the officers. Because I dared speaking up a…”
“Watch your own feet when you start dancing now!” the admiral cut short the convict´s words.
He waited out the executions until only one prisoner remained: Clad in black Chien del´Onyx, the Black Dog of the Spanish Main, was led forth.
“Remove his mask!” Nick ordered.
The guards obeyed. Under the disguise Martin´s well known face appeared. One look into it brought to Nick´s attention what had just happened here. The men and women of the Errant Eagle – captured? Executed? How had it come to this? Sir Nick saw every single of his former shipmates hanging stiff and with broken necks in the wind. No, that was not quite true – one was missing.
“Martin!” Nick gasped. “Where´s Jarundo? What have I done to him? Tell me!”
The black dog snorted angryly. “Nothing, Admiral! What would you have done to him? In this life you never met. Jarundo lost his life years ago to the whip of a slave driver.”
The soldiers attempted to drag away the mouthy pirate to his death, but Nick commanded them to halt. At the same moment another hand shot forth.
“Go on!” the governor of Providence ordered briskly. “No interruptions!”
“No!” Nick yelled, but the nobleman just shook his head.
“Who do you think you are, trying to give ordrs here, Sir Brackenridge? You are nothing more than a sword that we draw when the situation calls for it, my little knight!”
“Don´t give him ideas”, Martin spat. “Lest he might rise to become the Queen of England before you know…”
Sir Clark wanted to draw his sword to run through the governor and sever the rope that was put around Martin´s neck now. But he could not move.
His surroundings blurred before Nick´s eyes. The scene moved back from him, somehow, but not out of sight. It stayed visible enough to be real, yet far beyond his control.
“No!” Clark shouted again and he was still screaming when he jumped up from his bed in his mansion at Eleuthera. A disbelieving laughter escaped the privateer´s throat when he realized that he had been dreaming only.
“Such nonsense! I´d never…”
From the floor loud noise was to be heard. First the voices of men arguing, then a loud crashing sound and then the men continued their argument.
Clark donned his dressing gown. He ran to the door, flung it open and demanded to know what was going on in his house. The house owner found that he was facing those of his shipmates who inhabited guestquarters in the mansion tonight: Chips and the Riet-couple. Viviane was too drunk to even stand upright, let alone add something to the men´s ongoing discussion. She kept caresseing the gaunlet of a full armor that had fallen, taking it for her husband, and told him everything would be alright again very soon.
“Exshoes ush”, Chips managed to say, followed by a hiccough.
“Guuuuuyyyyyyys”, Clark murmured.
Expectantly three slightly glassy, but alive, pairs of eyes met his.
“I just wanted to say”, the captain started, “that I´ll have you hanged for something personal, should I ever do so. Not just because you are pirates. You know that, don´t you?”
At first nothing happened. Then Chips grinned, relieved. “Gumm, Werner, me lad”, he adressed his shipmate. “Lesh down anusser wun! Sha old man is eeven more drung shan wee!”
Again time passed, this time in the real world. The days dragged on, while the Errant Eagle anchored at Cuba´s northern coast, left to the command of Acting Captain Pierre Dupont.
The larger fraction of the crew passed the time in the island´s interior in and around Puerto Principe. Within the next handful of days the silver caravan would change it´s escort in one of the thorps surrounding the town. Which one exactly was subject to the day of the caravan’s arrival. The captains Clark and Martin payed rapt attention to the passing of the days. They had memorized the system according to which each of the villages got “activated”. Day and night their scouts kept close watch over the paths and trails that wound through the jungle. Disguised as spanish soldiers the eagles needed not hide from the villagers and townsfolk. The required equipment and armours a spanish galleon had supplied, the ship that had been carrying the original replacement escort soldiers, whose place the eagles had taken now. Unlike all the other times, Clark had rejected every attempt of sailors to join the pirate crew and left no survivors. Did his deed weigh heavily on his conscience? Martin did not think so.
But the fletchling pirate had his own worries these days. The trip to Lizard Island, several weeks ago by now, was still troubling Martin. Again and again a certain happenstance surfaced in his mind. When he and Clark had fallen onto each other in the cellar, a part of the man had liked it. The contacts had been pleasant… Martin wondered whether his memory was playing tricks on him or if there really was something wrong with him. Just to make sure the man seduced one local girl after the other. Only a rare few of the young women were not interested in a clandestine lovenight with the handsome soldier Martin was disguised as.
“The disguise is the soldier-part only, not the handsome. That´s real”, Martin explained to his friends when he met them in the pub one afternoon. He left it to the native speakers to place an order. Next to Jose, that was Clark, too.
Martin leaned back, looking for this night´s bedmate among the females present.
“As far as we can tell, the caravan is still moving in accordance with the time table. It could arrive tonight or take another week”, Clark said just now. The words alone did not betray his true intentions. He added that his men became restless, once again no suspiscious remark. It could have come out of the mouth of a spanish officer just as well. Not even the disguised privateer’s spanish sounded suspicious. His upbringing as the foster child of spanish parents and later Capitano Porreno’s ward allowed Clark to produce genuine outbreaks of surprise or delight in spanish. If he cursed spontanously instead of hurting well aimed with words, he always did so in his mother´s language. But sometimes words failed the halfblood – especially when something was so new that no word existed for it, yet… like the liquid in Jose’s cup, that almost made the man keel over after the first drought.
“What is this stuff?” Clark asked the barmaid.
“Your comrade ordered it willingly!” the woman tried to defend herself. “The drink came to us from Hispaniola…”
“Hihi, no!” the woman giggled. “The english call it Cill de Ville or perhaps it´s french. Anyway, it´s something new.”
“Your original supply´s finished, your patrons crave more and the landlord can´t let them down, but nobody in these parts knows how to correctly brew the stuff?” Martin assumed.
A shrug from the waitress confirmed his suspicion.
Clark sniffed Jose’s drink. Profound loathing crept into his features.
“This piss isn´t made from a certain byproduct of the sugar raffination?” he inquired.
“Is, too, Capitano, or so it´s said!” the woman beamed.
“How – hicc – d´you know this?” Jose asked.
“I remember it from a plantation I was… stationed as a young man”, Clark lied. He could hardly announce in Puerto Principe´s town centre that he was a pirate freed from enslavement! “It kills pain, pain of many kinds, body and soul.”
Clark lifted the cup into the candlelight, so that it´s contents shimmered reddish.
“As if the blood of all those who lost hands and arms in the sugar presses had flown into it”, he thought to himself. “I thought I had left it behind, but suddenly people pay for the priviledge of drinking it…”
Martin grabbed Clark´s wrist. He forced arm and cup down. Still wound up in his memories, the privateer allowed it.
“Capitano!” Martin whispered. “Are you saying you know how to make this? Do you have any idea what profits it could gain us?”
“Forget it!” Clark interrupted his friend. “It’s just crap. Trust me, this fancy will never catch on!“
“More of this… this…” Jose begged.
“Kill devil”, Clark came to his apprentice´s help. “But there´s not need to memorize it.”
(note: Kill Devil = Rum)
Two days more passed. Come morning of the third day after his aquaintance with the reddish-golden sugar liquor, Martin stepped up to the window of his guestroom, taking in Puerto Principe´s boredom. Once, twice or ten times too often had he seen the indians, farmers, pigs and pikemen carrying flags.
“Wait a moment – Pikemen?! Carrying Flags?!”
In almost no time the pirate donned his disguise. A full troop of armed men approached the town from the south east! They even had cannons and a small cavalry unit!
The escort was larger than Martin had expected in his wildest dreams. It was more than the pirates could handle safely. It was more than they could handle at all! What had went wrong? The caravan was not supposed to enter the town! Had the spaniards altered their plan or had the eagles fallen for false information in the first place? Was this the silver caravan, anyway? Martin could see no porters, only soldiers.
Almost no pirate in town was ready for battle and even if they had been, the men were scattered all over the place. Unorganized. Open to attack. Vulnurable.
Martin climbed through the window, jumped onto the roof of a small shed and hasted to the stables. He ignored the mules as well as the donkeys, swinging himself upon a real horse that had belonged to the capitano of the galleon.
Martin urged the animal to hurry, riding fast towards the small thorp where the eagles´ main force was stationed and waiting for the silver caravan. Clark was there today, unaware of what was coming to him. Those pirates left behind in Puerto Principe would have enough sense, or so Martin hoped, to flee from town on their own accord without him needing to tell them.
Martin had covered about half the distance between the town and the thorp, when he realized that he made a grave mistake. He had expected that the spanish troup would scour the town first, but that was not the case. The arrivals from the south east passed by Puerto Principe without pausing.
“This way I´m leading them straight to our men”, it dawned to Martin. “And that´s going to be a lopsided battle…”
Already the forefront of his pursuers closed in on the fugitive.
Martin tore into the reins. His mount reared! Martin breathed heavily, unsteady. Where should he turn to?
Several pistols flared.
“Haha!” Martin laughed. “Missed by a long shot!“
The next moment his view tipped over when the horse collapsed under him, dead.
“That was not chivalrous at all”, was all the adventurer could manage to say.
Martin avoided getting buried under the horse, at least, but what had even he to bring on against the dozens of pistols and pikes that were now being aimed at him?
“It would be in your best interest to surrender at once, Captain Martin”, a well-known voice greeted the pirate. It belonged to the captain of the spanish brigg the eagles had captured near Providence!
“Do not look at me like the local oxen, show some cojones”, the spaniard mocked his captive. Meanwhile his second-in command dismounted to collect Martin’s weapons and drag the captive back to his feet.
“Providence´s governor may support piracy for the right price”, the capitano explained, “but he does not approve of it. Being gentlemen of honor of a powerful nation we were out of town not long after your misfit of a galleon.”
“For the right price, too, I pressume”, Martin grumbled.
“Oh, Captain Martin”, the spaniard sneered. “Bribary is such an ugly word! Let´s say it was my need and pleasure to compensate the governor for the warm welcome we received in Providence. And the remaining time till we met again I used well, wouldn´t you think so?”
“It did not escape my notice.”
The spanish commander yelled a few orders to his men. They majority of them were to meet with the silver caravan, prove their idendity and explain the new plan, before the eagles could stage their coup. The rest was to deal with any pirate they could find…
The forest was always moist and steaming. A myriad of colours, sounds and scents confused those not at home in this environment, but constituted a very precise map for the beasts ruling this territory. Today the sharp stench of gunpoweder and fear-smell added to the coctail. It told the animals that man was on the prowl. Man was unpredictable. The jungle beasts could gauge this species´ danger portential only to a certain extent. Judging by the strentgh of limbs and teeth, man should have been “prey”, but the calculation did not work out, because no beast could properly add the power of man´s tools into the calculation. So sometimes man turned out to be “hunter”. Fortunately hunter-man´s favourite prey was other hunter-man and so all one had to do as a sensible forest creature was keeping one´s distance from the two-legged oddity.
But even those two-leggeds that were familiar with the jungle were hardly breezing through the encounters with the spaniards. Especially if they were to baby-sit a group as the one Louis had to at the moment. There were Chat Creed and Louis’ best friend Gontard, who were hardly aware of their surroundings. Jarundo, whose forest survival skills had severly degraded since he had taken up a pirate’s life. His apprentice Clark, who seemed to think determination made up for actual expertise. In fact, the half-skilled brothers made Louis’ job as the group’s scout harder than Gontard’s and Creed’s total obliviousness. And finally there was Felipe, a man who was pathologically unable to keep his mouth shut while fighting. Under normal circumstance his slogans and improvised battle songs kept up the eagle’s morals, but here in the green hell they could just as well serve as their threnody.
At the moment the men were running. Behind them a cannon flared up, then bellowed. The eagles threw themselves to the ground or behind whatever cover they could find – in Felipe’s case this was Jarundo, who pushed him away right into Creed.
Behind them a tree trunk splintered, but that was the worst already. The fugitives were well out of range of the the small wheeled cannons their foes employed.
But not far to their left the clash of blade against blade could be heard and right where the pirates had slumped to the ground, the native wildlife took an interest in the trespassers.
“I have no time for you and your ilk!” Clark yelled at a large, spotted cat that had crept up on the panicked humans. He fired one of his two pistols at the animal. There had been no other choice, nevertheless the captain rued the shot. One ball less could be one less too many. There was as little time for re-loading in this fight in the forest as was in a boarding battle. But the “trees” found on a battleship, the masts and planks, were much more helpful to the captain than those still standing. Aboard a ship Clark knew every possible hiding place of enemy seamen and marksmen. The forest was alien territory to him, a battlefield more to Martin´s liking. And finally that realisation sank in.
With the dead cat in front and the forest burning behind them, not to mention unknown obstacles between his group and battle deeper in the jungle, joining that fray didn’t deem Clark the wisest option at all.
“Back to the ship! Order withdrawal, captain!” Louis heaved at Clark´s side.
Out of breath Jarundo agreed with him by means speaking with his eyes only.
“We can make it”, Louis urged his captain. “The spaniards seem to be busy with another splinter group right now.”
“Yes. Yes, I know…”
The handfull of men around the captain heard the unspoken “but” well.
“But what?!” Gontard challenged.
“Nothing. Just a minute to regain our breath, then we´ll be on our way”, Clark said.
He dragged Jarundo away from the others. “Martin was in town today, along with about a dozen men”, he reminded his friend. “The spaniards came from the south-east, that means they could have come through Puerto Principe. Our men there might be captured, escaped…”
Clark nodded. “I need to find out.”
“That´s insane, brother! We´ve got the use the distraction over there, else we won´t leave this jungle alive!”
“You will get away. I´ll fight my way through on my on.”
“What are those two yapping about?” Creed whispered, while the two friends discussed.
“I`m afraid Clark won´t let go the silver caravan yet”, Louis replied, unsure how to feel about it.
“Retreat as agreed”, Clark instructed Jarundo. “I´ll leave the Errant Eagle along with a very good navigator to you…”
“If you go, I´m coming with you, of course!” Jarundo protested.
But Clark shook his head. “You´ll have to place your wife first. If… when you have children one day, remember that ‘Clark’ makes a good first name, too!”
“I´m not leaving you. This you cannot order me!”
Jarundo winced when he noticed a tiny gesture of his friend´s hands. Fractions of a second later he heard the snap of a pistol trigger and knew it belonged to Louis. The marksman knew the same silent signals Clark and Jarundo had made up between themselves. The brothers’ sign language had become common knowledge among the eagles. Jarundo’s choice was now between leaving together with the others or getting shot dead right at the spot.
“Beat it, all of you!” Clark commanded. “Run!“
“Clark and Martin… We´re loosing them both…“ Chat Creed whispered.
The small group started moving.
“Now that´s an end I´d never have expected!”
Meanwhile Captain Martin was priviledged to witness the silver caravan´s arrival. The porters nearly collpased where they stood from exhaustion. Armed soldiers rounded them up, then they, too, slumped down on the ground. Only after a while civilians and soldiers alike started stuffing smoking pipes and drinking from their water bottles.
“The village should be cleaned out and be firmly in our hands soon”, the Capitano promised the arrivals. His comrade from the silver caravan nodded. The strain from the long, demanding march and constant vigilance was etched deeply into his face.
“What about this one here?” the petty officer charged with guarding Martin inquired.
“As much as I´d love hanging him on the spot for his friend Clark to find”, the capitano answered, “I cannot deny the caravan’s need for more porters. You can never have enough of them.”
The capitano pushed Martin towards the workers. Many of them were slaves, but there was a good score of free men who were looking forward to spend their hard-earned wages in Puerto Principe. Both groups were guarded equally sharp by the soldiers.
“The son of the governor of Martinique´s not going to play mule for you!” Martin snapped.
“So that´s the story behind the name?” A smile flickered over the spaniard´s face. “Well, young…”
“…young de Monet, in case you should have planned pleading your good name at the slightest trace of danger and return home afterwards with some happy memories, then you were in error. With your actions you have overstepped a line and there´s no turning back. You are an outlaw, without rights. – Lead him away!”
The soldier into whose custody Martin was given was of common heritage. His grip was just firm enough and he looked almost awed into the captive´s face.
“Are you really a governor´s scion?” he whispered.
Martin nodded. “Francois de Monet´s the name. Your captain can relay the message of my demise to France…“
“But why? Why did you run away?”
“Having everything I could ever want for, you mean?”
Martin was pressed against a tree and bound. All the while he spoke on: “There are things money can´t buy, lad. Did you join the army in the hope for a new pair of boots and a daily warm meal? Strange, that was never good enough for me. My freedom is worth more.”
“You lost it”, the soldier replied. “If you survive the march, you´ll end up in the mines of Tayo…”
The young man clapped his hand over his mouth. In shock he realized that he had already said too much.
“Tayopa, hm?” Martin murmured. “How interesting…“
Clark was surprised at the fact how fast he reached Puerto-Principe. While being chased by the spaniards, the eagles had criss-crossed the forest and used every possible cover. Finally alone, Clark had marched back in a straight line.
When the privateer captain arrived in town, he entered an oasis of peace.
“How perceptions change”, he thought. “A few days ago I would have called it boring.”
Moving silently through the small town towards the tavern was an easy task. From the stable next to it merry laughter rose up. “Martin”, Clark grinned, shaking his head. “Having a jolly good time in there while all kinds of horror-visions about your death are spinning through my head!”
He opened the gate a little bit and spied into the stable. Indeed one of his men was busy with the most beautiful of waitresses. Another held a pitcher with the newfangled sugar-liquor – and one woman at each side. Neither of them was Captain Martin.
The man with the pitcher raised it in welcome when he recognized the entering man.
“That a pirate, too?” one of the girls more exclaimed than asked. She sounded as if she had had more than her fill of the sugar-liquor already.
“Yeah. – Come in, Captain! Then there´s three of us and none of the girls needs to feel left out!”
Grimly the captain entered the stable. “Oldworld! Spencer! Are you even aware that out there in the jungle all hell has broken loose?!” he shouted at his shimates.
“All the more reason to stay in here, where it`s safe”, the drinker replied.
His comrade gently parted from his lovemate.
“We better do what the captain wants, Jeff”, he said, with precaution.
“Huh? Why, Eric? I mean, yes, of course we should, but Clark won´t order any foolishness like running into the forest under these circumstances!”
Clark closed in on the two.
“I´m coming from there!” he told them.
“See, Oldworldling? Our captain is a sensible man.”
“That I would not claim”, Oldworld Eric rejected the notion. “I only said that it does not pay off to act against his will. That´s sure to bring down misfortune on you.”
Clark did not comment this statement.
“At the moment Puerto Principe is the eye of a storm of no small proportions”, he explained. “But in a few hours this will change. When the silver caravan´s escort comes through here, you do not want to be found within the town walls!”
“You are right”, Jeff Spencer relented. “But pray tell, how did the forest become a battlefield in the first place?”
“For reasons unknown to us the spaniards have altered their original plan. Instead of turning south directly from the village with the silver, they might head to Santiago or another rendzevous point.”
“And as long as we do not know where the treasure ships are waiting for them, we cannot intercept the caravan”, Eric concluded. “What do you want us to do, now?”
Clark went to the donkey boxes. He stroked one of the animals behind it´s ears. “What do the local farmers know about war and silver caravans? Nothing! At best they´ve noticed a band of armed men arrive at Puerto Principe, pass by the town and march on. Lots of soldiers that must be hungry and thirsty, especially since there was a lot of clamour in the forest those recent hours. And that´s why three dumb-bold townspeople with their beasts of burden will trundle along towards the village to peddle their wares. A few empty barrels and some flasks of Kill Devil should suffice. While posing as locals, we´ll spy on the spanish main force and check on those of our comrades who might have gotten captured. Oh, and, one more thing: As fashionable as your bedbunnys may be clad, your disguises you´d better get from a man.”
“You want to take our donkeys?” one of the women exclaimed. “You must not! They belong to my uncle the landlord!”
Clark snorted, diparagingly.
“What part of “pirate” did Jeff and Eric fail to explain to you?”
In the meantime Martin harboured thoughts of escape. By now he had realized that the capitano´s remark about needing every shoulder to lug the silver had been exaggerated. Humilating his prisoner thus was just his personal revenge for his defeat in their first encounter. The spaniards did not waste time trying to make captives. Even a handful of Clark´s men employed as carriers could prove too hard to steer. It was a risk the spaniards could not run, so they went for the kill whenever they encountered a pirate.
Captain Martin did not see his shipmates die, but that did not make it any easier. His imagination was vivid enough to picture the seamen unused to landbound fighting lying in puddles of their own blood, neither dead nor alive, welcome victims to the jungle denizens.
At best Jarundo and Louis would be able to leave the forest alive and reach the ship. The Errant Eagle would not wait for stragglers, she’d be off once the first fugitives reached the galleon´s hideout. For this reason Martin had to act in a hurry, if he did not wish to end as a mule indeed.
“You know”, he adressed the young soldier when he brought him some water to drink, “Actually, we´ve got some common interests!”
The spaniard did not make the mistake of gleening in his superior´s direction. He slammed the empty mug into the ground, sat down and leaned against the tree Martin was tied to. This way he could, as was expected of him, keep a close eye on the porters. Some of them had recovered enough to engage in a game of chance. Now the soldier did, figuratively speaking, the same: Overtly going about his guard duty, he listened to every word of the captive pirate.
“They are fools“, Martin remarked. “Gambling their wage away so close to their destination, only because it isn´t in sight yet and thus does not exist for them.”
“If you´ve got something to tell me, don´t play with your words”, the soldier replied.
A smile crossed Martin´s lips. His opponent was smart enough to get the comparison. With smart individuals one could strike a bargain…
“I desire my freedom and you dream of riches of the kind I enjoyed as a kid”, Martin continued. “Those cravings could be combined…”
“I´m not interested in the pieces of eight in your pockets, pirate.”
“Who spoke of pocket-money? I know where a treasure cache waits for the taking!”
“Ha and ha! Why, then, did you come here instead of getting it?”
“Only to have to share it with Clark and his gang? No, the money was meant for a dire predicament. It seems to me that such a situation has arisen now.”
Martin could almost see the young man´s brain working. The spaniard, his name was Pepe Gonzales, told himself, that no harm could come from talking to a helpless, bound prisoner. Just listening did not commit Pepe to anything, after all. Should the foreigner talk as long as he still could!
In this fashion Pepe subdued the twinge of guild in his chest.
“Your treasure, is it indio-gold?” he inquired.
Martin´s instincts counseled him to take utmost care. Rumours about cursed indian treasures traveled from pub to pub in the whole New World.
“No, real coins”, the pirate span his yarn. “Jewelery and taxes from St. Christophe, hidden from the english, when they invaded the town. I know it from my father.”
“You see, the money rightfully belongs to France”, Martin explained, though his Co-Captain would certainly have disagreed. “I can do with it whatever I want.”
After a short pause the frenchman added: “St. Christophe was a wealthy town…”
Pepe tried for a justification of the improper thoughts running through his mind: “So if one returned the money to the french, there would be a reward for the finder?”
“I would think so”, Martin confirmed. “But your captain is rich. He would not need a reward.”
“No, he just wants to become even richer”, Pepe sighed.
This lesson he had learned as a child already. The capitano would keep the treasure to himself, with only a token payment to those who had helped him get it. It was better if Pepe and Martin did it on their own. They would dig the money up and return it to the rightful owners… perhaps. If they could still be found after so many years…
“Cut my bonds now!” the captive hissed.
Pepe rose up. He stretched his limbs. His knees shaking, he kicked over the mug with his boot accidently and lifted it up to check whether there was some liquid left in it. It was empty, as dry as his thorat. Eventually Pepe pulled himself together. The youth´s fingers were trembling when he severed Martin´s bonds and with them the last connection to his old life.
A peddler accompanied by two bullys armed with clubs approached the village from the direction of Puerto Principe.
“I never understood why they named the town Porto”, Eric thought aloud. “I say, doesn´t that mean Port? What port´s this supposed to be, in the middle of a primeval forest?”
“Well”, Clark grumbled, “There certainly seem to be robbers around as at any shore.”
The privateer pointed into the direction the trio was headed to. There two locals bent down over a wounded man, one of the eagles dressed up as a pikeman. Unable to escape the duo, he looked up and from one to the other, frightened.
“Told you it would pay off going into the forest today!” one of the two men said triumphantly. “The soldiers have stopped shooting at everything that moves. The three dead ones they forgot to loot weren´t that poor. And now the Good Lord sent us a muscular guy for the taking. When he´s back on his feet, he´ll relieve us of a lot of hard work at the farm!”
Captain Clark jumped off his donkey.
“Hey, you there!” he called out.
The two looters turned around. Seconds later the ambidexterous captain had pointed one pistol at each of them.
“If they ask you in the kingdom come who sent you there, then don´t stammer you were floored! Give Captain Clark´s regards to Isaac Snyder when you arrive there – then your miserable existances will have served a purpose at least once!”
“Snyder? Who´s that Snyder-person?” Eric wondered, when two shots fell simultanously.
“His father, I think”, Jeff Spencer replied. “The one murdered by the spaniards, you know?”
Clark walked, the still smoking pistols in his hands, over to the two spaniards. One lay dead to his feet. Clark had hit him between the eyes. The other man was still squirming. The shot had just grazed him and left a nasty wound at one side of the skull.
“It would have been easier for you, had you not attempted to evade”, the englishman scorned the wounded. He pressed him to the ground, twisting his head so that the wound got exposed to the dirt. Now it was guaranteed to become infected.
Then Clark turned his attention to his shipmate lying on the ground.
“Captain…” the pikeman groaned.
Just like Jeff he had signed on only recently at Eleuthera, lured by the promise of the silver.
“I do not think I can come along. Can´t move my leg…”
“But your head, I pressume”, Clark answered, grinning. “Look over there, Sam! We´ve got donkeys, they are for riding. Mount up, shipmate! Of course a whore is better, but until that happy moment we´ve got to cover some distance.”
While Jeff and Eric looted the dead and the dying spaniard, Clark helped Sam onto the donkey. The three were not quite done when Clark listened up. Hadn´t he heard something? In the jungle?
“Oh-ho, somebody finally noticed us!” he heard someone exclaim with disdain. “Pirates! They are lost when they have no view of several days worth of travel! If I´d been a spaniard, they´d be dead by now. See, Pepe, with blind bats like these I have to cope on a daily basis!”
Clark recognized the voice at once: “Martin!”
Out of the woods a very much alive Captain Martin stepped, followed by a younger pirate whom Clark did not recognize. Just like Sam the youth was still wearing his disguise as spanish soldier.
Clark ran up to his friend. He slapped him on the shoulder – in his position the greatest sign of affection that was still proper in public.
“Your report, Captain…?”
Martin frowned. “The silver caravan´s escort has almost doubled, Clark“, he said. “I´d say we could deal with them at sea, but here, in the forest? I´m afraid we´ll have to retreat.”
“What the hell did happen, anyway?”
Martin reported everything he knew about the spanish capitano´s escape from Providence. “The spaniards knew, by then, that their plans had fallen into our hands and modified them accordingly”, he finished. “But I´ve secured us something else. I´ll tell you later, in private.”
While the captains were talking, Pepe could not take his eyes off the two locals on the ground. Not for the first time did the soldier see dead or dying men, but never before had he considered joining forces with the murderers…
The following days Pepe resigned to silence. No one held his taciturn manner against the defector. After all, the six men were still on the run.
The young ex-soldier held Sam tight, when Martin tried to remove the shot from his leg during a rest. Just like the pirates, Pepe counted the days ´till they reached the shore and he shared Sam´s fear, when the man´s wound reddened and an infection began to spread. On the Errant Eagle the doctor and the carpenter would have to see to the matter.
“An amputation has it´s good points, lad”, the man remarked to the newest recruit, who led his donkey by a piece of rope. “One-leggeds aren´t sent up to the crow´s nest. I´m terribly afraid of heights, you know!”
Moments like this made Pepe believe he´d been taken in by a large family, instead of having entered into a business relationship with foreigners. But he had not yet lived through the worst…
A full week had passed since the skirmish. The spaniards had not been as thourough as they believed. Not only Louis and his group, but also Jose and several other pirates had made it out of the jungle, some more and some less whole. But by now two days had passed with no stragglers in sight anymore. It was time to set sail again, the survivors found – or at least the leading majority of them thought so. However, Errant Eagle´s departure was delayed, because there were arguments over the position of the captain. That wasn´t particularily unusual for this ship and so the galleon rose up and down lazily in the shallow waters unimpressed the the two-legged people´s clamour.
Whipcrack Werner was sitting on a rolled up rope. He did not look into Jarundo´s face when he finally managed to open his tightly pressed together lips: “Is this what you´ve felt like during the mutiny? Did you simply not like what we´d done or did you know it was wrong? As wrong as sailing away now is…”
Viviane agreed with her husband: “The spaniards did not come looking for our ship. Nothing keeps us from waiting one or two days longer. Nothing!”
But the men around James Maria Perry were deaf in this ear. Even Chat Creed, who had vowed to never again let down Captain Clark, was on his side, now. The boatswain simply did not believe that Clark could have survived his solo mission.
As the crew’s self-appointed spokesperson Perry forced each crewmember who had not yet voted for a new captain to do so immediately or accept their shimates´ decision. Jarundo, Whipcrack, Viviane, Marita, Chips and Jose had no choice but to comply with the request.
The scribe planted himself in front of Jarundo and the Riet-couple.
“Jarundo…?” he probed.
“Yes”, the carib indian replied.
“What do you mean by that?”
“What I said: Yes, that’s the name of the person I vote for.”
“You want to vote for yourself?”
“No rule against it!”
“Um… I guess so.”
Expectantly Perry eyed the Riets.
Viviane looked at Jarundo. “I´m sorry, old friend”, she said. “I know you´d make the better leader, but Werner is my husband!”
“I am”, the dutchman interruped. “But I vote for Jarundo. I´m not inclined in the least to became captain – unlike others present.”
Perry did not react to the jab. “Three more votes for Jarundo”, he noted.
The scribe walked up to the main mast, looking up to the crow´s nest from where Jose Peralta kept a close watch of the shoreline.
“What´s it gonna be, Peralta? Voting or sulking?” he demanded. “Who´s your candidate?”
The navigator stretched his limbs. Suddenly he shook his head in disbelief.
“Peralta!” Perry shouted.
“Captain Clark!” Jose shot back, beaming.
“What? But he´s dead!”
“Perhaps he is”, the spaniard replied. “But then he´s superior to you even as a zombie!”
“What are talking about?” Perry snorted. “Are you sunstruck?”
“Turn around and see for yourself!” the other laughed.
Their shipmates who had heard the exchange of words hasted towards the landbound side of the Errant Eagle. There three donkeys and six men exited the jungle.
“Hurry up!” Whipcrack shouted. “Down with a ladder! Let them come aboard!”
“Yes, all seven of them”, Viviane added. She boxed Perry. “For what´s one more silly ass to us, ey, shipmate?”
The returners recieved a welcome as if they had brought all the silver of the treasure caravan with them. Exchanging many hugs, shoulder-slaps and jokes celeberated not just their captains’, but their own survival and the return of normality after their brutal adventure in the green hell. Jarundo, who had entertained all kinds of plans how to pay back his brother for threatening him with a pistol, forgot about all of them for the moment and joined into the commotion.
Pepe Gonzales kept to Martin´s side during the onrush. His comrades had already learned that the former soldier was lacking a pirate´s boldness.
“Are we going to get the trea… the reward, I mean, now?” Pepe whispered to the french.
Martin smirked. “There is no treasure”, he said. “I made that up to escape from the spaniards with your help.“
“What treasure are you two talking about?” Clark inquired.
“The tax-money… from St. Christophe… hidden from the english!” Pepe moaned.
“Oh, that treasure.”
“Ha!” Pepe made a fist. “So it exists after all!”
Clark shook his head. “Such a coin stash has been hidden by the townsfolk, so far you are right”, he corrected. “But I found it many years ago.”
Clark clasped Martin´s hand as if to congratulate him on a great joke.
Pepe´s eyes widened and the youth stood dumbfounded.
“I threw away my life and now there´s not even a treasure?” he exclaimed.
“See, Martin”, Clark commented, “not everybody is lured by the promise of adventure alone. Dreaming is the rich man´s privilegde and the poor man´s curse.”
Pepe struggled against a flood of tears that did not care for the fact that he was seventeen years old and supposed to be a man. He felt displaced into a terrible nightmare.
Martin shoved the youth forward and into the centre of everybody´s attention.
“Men!” the captain shouted. “It´s true, we lost the silver saravan. but this here is Pepe and he knows the way to Tayopa!”
Loud bawling welcomed the newest crewmember. Only a few voices of doubt rose.
“What use is this to us?” Creed demanded. “Even before the spaniards decimated us, we´d never been able to conquer the secret silver mines!”
“You are right”, Perry replied. “But imagine how much the information would be worth to our english allys!”
Viewed in this light the two captains´ safe return turned out to be not a bad thing at all, the scribe thought.
“I´m telling you not a single word!” Pepe Gonzales barked.
“Not bold, but couragous”, Clark acknowledged. He approached the youth so that Pepe had to step back. “You spaniards like to make your final hours harder than they need to be, don´t you?”
Pepe reached for his side-weapon, a long dagger. But before he could drew it, Jarundo had already snatched the blade from him.
“Those paltry coins from St. Kitts cannot compare to the shares a crewmember of ours earns”, Martin tried to convince his aquaintance. “Join us and secure your share of the silver! You won´t ever rue this decision. Otherwise… well, you have already witnessed what Clark´s going to do to you.”
“I don´t care”, Pepe lied.
Captain Clark snapped his fingers. “Whipcrack, Freddie, Perry – I want the exact location of Tayopa along with every additional information you can garner. Everything you need for this task is aboard this ship.”
The three closed in on Pepe to drag him to the lower decks.
“You´ve plotted a course already, Jose?” Clark turned to the apprentice navigator. The man confirmed. “Then these shores have seen us for the longest time.”
The Errant Eagle left Cuba. The privateers preyed the western coast of Hispaniola now.
In the ship’s belly Pepe Gonzales was unsure what to fear more: Each additional day at sea or the eventual arrival at Tortuga. Clad in a shirt stained with his own blood and sweat only, he lay enchained in the very same cell Clark and Jarundo had waited in for the right moment to take over the Pride of Martinique. In time Pepe stopped measuring the days, counting from hour to hour only. There was no future beyond the next hour. Each strike of the ship´s bell seemed an eternity away.
When one day Jarundo instead of the pirates assigned to extract the information about Tayopa from him stood at his cell´s door, the prisoner was convinced his final hour had come.
“You are as stubborn as Captain Clark, but you seem to be a good deal tougher”, the leutnant spoke up. The mortal fear in Pepe´s eyes could be clearly seen despite the darkness down here. So Jarundo went straight to the point in order not to needlessly torment the prisoner even more.
“You´ll answer each of my questions with ‘yes’”, the pirate leutnant ordered. “If you do so, you´ll get out of this mess alive. Can you understand me, spaniard?”
“Good! Tell me, did you lie, when you were bragging about knowing the way to Tayopa?“
“Yes or no?!” Jarundo barked.
“Much better. And are you going to confess this to the others, when they arrive to interrogate you in a few minutes?”
“And will you accept the offer to join our crew afterwards?”
Pepe wanted to decline. But his body searing with pain was of another opinion. The body knew nothing about honor and what terrors awaited a soul after death did not concern it. That was why a body did not exactly think the world of virtue and loyality. “Yes”, it made the former soldier say.
Jarundo seemed pleased, but not entirely satisfied, with the answers.
“Then you also agree to, out of gratitude for my help, pay nine of ten parts of your shares to me?”
“Yes”, Pepe whispered, with a sigh that was part relief and part resignation.
“Then that´s settled”, the carib indian laughed. “Now listen up! Alfred and Whipcrack or too limited to notice anything but ‘Prisoner screams’ and ‘Prisoner spills the beans’. Perry´s a sly fox, he can read between the lines. But I peformed some work of persuasion on our treasurer. He´ll be a nice boy and say nothing when you are going to ‘confess’ your ‘lie’.”
A question slipped off the prisoner´s tongue: “Why are you helping me?”
“Because Perry is not the only one I have a score to settle with”, Jarundo answered. “Garcia and Clark tend to put pistols to their friends´ heads when they least expect it. I do not like that.”
“Before your time. Now play your part and play it well!”
“Well“, Captain Martin said the next morning, “All Pepe really said was that I might end up as a slave in the mines. That he had come the whole way from Tayopa in Mexiko to Puerto Principe personally was my conjecture. I admit that was leaping to a conclusion without judging the facts first.”
Clark nodded grimly. To lose this last bit of hope for turning the desaster into a partial success at least did not sit well with him. But what could he do?
The two captains walked the Errant Eagle´s main deck. Without pausing Martin grabbed Alfred by his shoulder, dragging the boy into the opposite direction he had been headed.
“Hey, what have I done wrong? I just wanted to roll dice with the others over there!” the child protested.
“Not as long as Pepe´s playing with them”, the captain clarified. “You enjoy seeing him wince at your sight far too much.”
“Oh?” Clark inquired. “Does he?“
“What did you expect? The three of them tortured the boy on your orders for days!”
Martin´s Co-Captain strolled over to the gamers.
“Pepe – to the treasurer!” he ordered with glee.
“What was that for?” Martin demanded.
Clark waved about his hand.
“I’m saving the kid’s life in the long run, so I’m perfectly entitled to enjoy the utter look of terror in his face right now.”
“Saving his life?”
Clark started explaining. Though for once he was aware of a bit of legal lore Martin was not, the fact did not raise his spirits. The recent defeat and losses of so many shipmates were not easy to digest. Nobody blamed the captains, but the situation was far from ideal.
James Perry recieved the new one with a businessman´s cool neutrality.
“I pressume you cannot read or write, Gonzales”, he said. “But you should remember that this sheet of paper here…” The scribe presented a folded up document one could easily carry on one´s body all the time to his visitor. “…is your most valuable posession.”
The youth accepted the paper in silence.
Perry explained: “It certifies that the owner was pressed into service in a pirate crew against his will. Such documents are around for a short time only, but I´ve heard tell they can save a man´s life.”
“And this is true?”
Perry nodded. “Don´t tell anybody about it”, he adviced the spaniard. “Else everybody would want one. You can imagine how quickly the certificates would lose their effectiveness then.”
Perry swallowed hard before he put his next question: “But isn´t that what Letters de Marque do, already? Saving lifes and all that?”
Perry erupted into laughter!
“Try telling this to the spaniards, lad!”
“But I am a spaniard!” Pepe protested.
“What you are“, the treasurer said, “is stranded on a ship full of madmen. You´ll see this soon enough for yourself.”