By the day’s end, the pirates had salvaged everything on El Isleño worth taking. They captured three more prisoners besides Miguel who were kept fed and taken care of, and that night, the crew dined wholly on plundered food. El Isleño had had stores of tropical fruit, salted pork, and bags of grain for making fresh bread, along with a Spanish recipe. The Boneguard’s small galley crew, led by the cook, Lombardi, was given that duty and one of the prisoners was willing to interpret the recipe for them. It would turn out the Spaniards had a fabulous bread recipe, as reported by countless dozens of sailors the next day.
Being the quartermaster, it was Hawke’s duty to determine the worth of all the plunder as well as count it all. A good friend of his was the first mate, Francis Chamberlain, who stayed up the majority of the night with him counting the loot. He was a smart man, very capable of his duties, and always trustworthy. He was the most loyal person Giles had ever known, and the two of them were inseparable. Francis’ black hair was tied back in a short ponytail and was often kept under his fine tricorn hat. Shaving for him was often infrequent, and presently his light beard and sideburns were growing in quite a bit. Though his features weren’t necessarily dashing, he was fine enough to look at. Sadly, not many ladies cared for pirates, unless they happened to be pirates, which was twice as rare, but Francis had always hoped of finding someone to be loyal to for life.
“Giles,” said Francis, walking wearily into Hawke’s working quarters.
“Yes, mate?” was Giles’ groggy response. “How many pieces of eight did you count?”
“Two thousand six hundred and eighty-four1,” said Francis, referring quickly to a piece of parchment in his hand Giles almost jumped out of his chair. “Really?!” he exclaimed. “Why, that’s incredible! I’ll tell you what; let’s go down to the steerage and count the doubloons next.”
In the world of currency, wealth was largely measured in Reale (Spanish for “Royal”). The main Spanish dollar, the piece of eight, was worth 8 Reale, and was also equivalent to a British pound. Spanish coins were made of either silver or gold. The gold coins were called escudos. One escudo was worth 16 Reale.
The biggest prize in terms of coins for a pirate was the Onza doubloon, worth 8 escudos, or 128 Reale2.
Hawke guessed it was around three in the morning. So far, 2,684 pieces of eight had been counted, and dozens of artifacts of Aztec gold had been salvaged, their worth yet to be determined. In one small den of the Boneguard were four large piles of gold coins, all escudos of different worth. Giles briefly scanned the small den. There was a small collection of maybe half a dozen large gold coins, which he assumed to be Onza doubloons. He ran his fingers through them and noticed one was much bigger and more ornate than the others. He lifted it from the wooden floor, and it revealed a gold chain looped through the coin, but the gold looked more like a medallion to Giles. That was when he recognized it: the medallion of Juarez.
"Juarez?!" bellowed Validus, in response to Giles when he came charging into his captain's quarters and threw the large gold piece in front of him.
Francis had followed the quartermaster to the cabin, and poked his head inside the door. “If I may inquire, my Captain, and my Master, is the said Juarez referring to the…”
“That hagrid prodigal son of Pretentious Portugal, Juarez?!” interrupted Validus sharply. “Aye, that be the one!”
Juarez was a notorious and dangerous Portuguese buccaneer who accomplished the bidding of, and was fully patronized by Pedro II himself, the ruler of Portugal. He was a scourge to the West Indies, and commanded a fleet that was always at least four ships in number. The medallion was his infamously-prized possession; for his medallion to be separated from his body could only mean he was dead or he was being held prisoner and someone had stripped him of it.
“Why, if them Spaniards got hold of Juarez’s medallion…” began Francis.
“Then they must have had him, too,” Hawke concluded.
“HA!” laughed Validus. “Juarez would kill he self before he let someone have him medallion. He is already dead.”
There was a long pause in the captain’s cabin, which was finally interrupted by Hawke, who said, “Well, that’s good news.”
“Nay, not so fast, me good man,” protested the captain. “I assume he was never found aboard El Isleño.”
“Aye, cap’n. Ye’re right about such,” responded Francis.
“So he was a prisoner aboard one of them warships, and his pretty medallion hence transferred to the treasure galleon. Wise! Then, the warships sunk in that nasty hurricane and Juarez along with them.”
“Captain, I suggest you might have rewoven this mystery,” Giles commended.
And with a flash in his eye, Validus picked up Juarez’s medallion, caressed it with his weathered fingers, and said, “So, quartermaster, how much say ye abouts the worth of this priceless trinket?”
Giles pondered the question. “I am sorry I have not had much time to study the piece nor contemplate it, but given its celebrity in these waters of treasure-hungry empires, I would value this item at … oh, say … 5000 Reale, so … a six hundred and something pieces of eight, perhaps.”
A delighted smile played across Validus’ face as he replied, “Arrrrrrrrrrh.”
After everyone had gotten a little sleep, Giles became the center of attention throughout all of the next day. As quartermaster, he was entirely responsible for dividing up the share of the treasure amongst all the pirates. Like everything else on the Boneguard, the task was long and always involved some disagreement over some amount of money. He hated that part about his position; tensions were always high during distribution.
Giles sat at the grand table in his business quarters, swamped in papers that listed the men’s shares, when Validus requested entry at his door. “Aye, Cap’n. Make yourself comfortable,” he answered.
The captain pulled up a small stool and sat down at the other end of the quartermaster’s table. “I wants to discuss some particulars with ye.”
“Of course,” responded Giles, glancing up from his papers.
“Ah, excellent. I know that medallion of Juarez is worth a good shilling, aye?”
“Indeed. I think we should sell the trinket.”
“I thought about it,” said Validus frowning. “But what say the other hungry pirates in Navarro when we reveal the ornament of Juarez? Them Portuguese will get word and think we took down mighty Juarez by ourselves, and they’ll send us a fleet up from Belém in Brazil. They’ll hunt us down! And what if we do not sell the medallion in Navarro but still announce we owns it? Then other pirates will hunt us, too.”
“What are you getting at, Captain?”
“If it becomes known we have Juarez’s gold, we’ll become catch o’ the day. I say that we ought to keep it. Nay, I ought to keep it.”
“On top of your original share of the plunder?!” Giles was growing itchy at his captain’s greed.
“Nay, let it be all of me share! Keep it safe, I will.”
“But if it be worth as much as 5000 Reale, that’s well over thrice your shares of the loot… that’s likely a decent fraction of the whole plunder, in fact.”
“Aye, but ye will understand me?”
“I might, sir, but I’d not be so sure about the rest of the crew, especially Morgan.”
“Aye, the William is demanding.”
“His position warrants the greed.”
“All he does is steer the ship. I could do his job for him! Let me see him shares, if ye may,” asked Validus.
“Much obliged. Just let me find it.”
It took Giles a couple minutes to find it, but he did, and gave it to the captain.
“Three shares!” exclaimed Validus. “That’s more absurd than the legend of the Kraken!”
“You agreed to it,” Giles reminded his friend.
“Change his shares to two.”
Giles glared at his captain. A sailor’s shares were how much of the profit from raids he earned. Every crew member and officer had a certain amount of shares, and no one individual person could go about changing the number of another’s or his own shares. On the Boneguard, it would take an official vote of the ship’s top twelve officers to alter anyone’s shares. It was taboo on any vessel. The two of them also knew Morgan to be aggressive, and while neither of the two liked him, much of the crew did. They all admired him. As coxswain, or helmsman, whichever word you like, he held a high responsibility, contrary to Validus’ opinion.
“I can’t understand why you would want to do such a thing,” said Hawke. “But he’ll find out as soon as the plunder is distributed on the morrow, or at least be suspicious. He already asked how much we earned from the prize in total, and I gave him a rought figure.”
“And do what about it? What would he do?” asked Validus irritably.
“At least threaten to mutiny,” replied Giles. “And once he knows you are claiming Juarez’s medallion as your own, he’d probably kill you.”
“I hope to see him try,” Validus scoffed maliciously. “I am captain, and I will make that known.”
Validus got up and left. Giles quickly did what his captain had wanted, and shoved the paper deep into stacks of others, all with a very bad feeling about his friend’s decision. “Time to go up and catch a whiff of the sea,” he spoke aloud to himself. “I’ve been in this musty cabin for hours!” He stood on deck for a minute or two, then descended to the aft of the middle gun deck. He entered the galley and took a seat at the rum counter. One of the tenders came around to greet him. “How fair ye, Master Hawke?”
“Like wind in the sails,” he replied heartily. “Get me a rum and old Lombardi, if you please. I desire a word with him.”
Lombardi, as was explained earlier, was the head cook of the Boneguard. He was tall, six feet perhaps, and had a peg leg, and thus walked with a bit of a limp. In addition to cooking food, it was evident he had eaten a fair share of it in his life, given the protrusion of his midsection. He walked awkwardly out of the kitchen to the bar counter, and pulled up a stool on the opposite side of the counter.
“Hallo, Master Giles!” Lombardi welcomed him with his deep, booming voice. “What may I to do for ye?”
“Ah, Lombardi. I have trouble on my chest. I wish to confide in you a secret.”
“Secrets!” bellowed Lombardi.
Giles shushed him. “Cork it, my lad! Pipe down a bit!” He lowered his voice. “Now listen carefully.”
Lombardi leaned in closer.
“This is about the captain,” whispered the quartermaster.
“Oh, ho! Keeping secrets from the captain?” laughed Lombardi.
“Quieter, friend!” Giles urged. “I’d profess it’s more a secret about the captain.”
“Ah. Comprehend, I do.”
“Good. You are not to tell this to anyone, but you may talk about it with Francis, for he already knows.”
“Aye, on ye go.”
“From the hold of El Isleño was recovered … the medallion of Juarez.”
Lombardi’s reddish eyes lit up and twinkled in the dim candlelight of the galley. “Oh, ho, that’s…”
“Keep it down, Lombardi,” warned Hawke again. “I dare not tread further if you again raise your voice above a whisper!”
“Oh,” replied Lombardi. “Aye, I can do that.”
“Good. The thing is Validus wants to keep it all to himself.”
“On top of his share?!”
“Nay. As his share … of this plunder, that is.”
“Oh… is that it?”
Though Lombardi wasn’t the brightest of earth’s creatures, he should have at least been able to grasp the sheer worth of the medallion, or so Giles thought. “Well, no. But on top of that, Validus changed William Morgan’s shares from three to two.”
“Ho!” gasped the cook. “That is a mistake. Morgan the helmsman?”
“Big mistake! He’s outrageous when he’s drunk and worse when he’s mad. And when he’s both…” Lombardi shuttered.
“Exactly. You must know the captain as well as I do by now.”
“Aye, me thinks so.”
“Why would he do that?” asked Giles.
Lombardi pondered the question. “I know not. Our good Cap’n ‘s a savvy fool.”
“Savvy fool, Lombardi?” queried Giles in utter perplexity, staring blankly into the cook’s eyes. “You realize that makes no sense.”
“Ah, forget sense! I say our Cap’n has something up him sleeves. I’d wait it out; we’ll all see what it is.”
Giles replied, “Perhaps, but what about when Morgan finds out?”
“I know not. It should hope to be fun to watch,” Lombardi said with a chuckle. “Ye fret too much, Giles. Ye ‘re the master of organization, and ye just wants to see things in perfect harm’ny. Well, ye can’t have it all, says I. We’re pirates. We ain’t perfect.”
Giles frowned, and thought hard about Lombardi’s strange words. “Oh, I guess you’re right.”
“I was born right, chap!” laughed the cook. “What does I do when me cooks think I’m wrong? I club ‘em over the head with me frying pan, and make ‘em eat pickled octopus. Ain’t no one that challenges the wisdom of a cook! At least, not when they have to eat pickled octopus for doing so.”
Giles cringed as that mental picture crossed his mind. But that was Lombardi—blunt and hard.
“Take a walk, Giles. Take a whiff of the sea. I swears I won’t tell no one.”
“Thanks, Lombardi. I say your wisdom’s right.”
“Ye bet I’m right!” retorted the cook.
Giles stood and left the galley, ascending back up to the deck. He walked up the gangway, and stood atop the quarterdeck, surveying the open sea around him. He turned to look at Morgan faithfully giuding the ship at her helm.
“Mister Morgan,” greeted Giles.
“Aye, how do ye?” returned the tall man. He had a black beard, a large brown tricorn hat, and a brace of pistols on his torso. His great-coat was long, red, and very worn.
Giles knew he’d be furious when he found out what Validus had done to him. What Validus had forced me to do. “Mister Morgan, may I inquire as to where we are headed?”
“To Puerto Navarro, my master. To resupply, and perhaps spend our cash and be merry in the delights of our new fortunes.”
“Puerto Navarro,” repeated Giles. Puerto Navarro.
Giles remained standing in silence on the quarterdeck of the Boneguard. He tuned the world of piracy out of his mind and focused on the majesty of the sea. The ocean was so unpredictable. One day, the waters would be calm, the sky clear. The sun would be reigning over its blue kingdom in all its shining brilliance, and the next day, it wouldn’t be seen. On those days the skies were dark, and empty chasms lorded over the sea, spitting daggers of rain and howling gales of wind, tossing the sea around violently.
But today was peaceful. Giles could no longer hear the occasional bark of a crew member or the groaning of the masts in the wind, nor could he hear the ripple of the water against the Boneguard’s hull, or the flapping of the Jolly Roger flying from the Jiggermast. He even tuned out the whispers of the sea; he was now alone in his own mind. He turned to look at Morgan, then turned back to the sea. He was seriously contemplating whether or not he should tell the helmsman. No, that wouldn’t do. Even if I tell him, he’ll still believe I had something to do with his drop in pay. Nay, that wouldn’t do.
Another thought then came to Giles, one that had already visited him before: what if he mutinies when he finds out? That was a chilling thought. The next question was who would go with him. Harold the boatswain, perhaps. He’s good friends with Morgan. Humphrey and Rogers are close to Validus; they would never join a party of mutineers.
Giles was undoubtedly sure of Humphrey and Rogers’ allegiance to Validus. Humphrey was small and fat, a Russian whose grandfather had sailed to the New World as a merchant, back when folks still called it the New World. As a result, Humphrey had a thick accent. He was also an excellent shot when it came to firearms. He was determined and strong-willed, and would do anything to serve his captain.
Rogers was seven feet tall and then some, a former pirate of the Barbary Corsairs, a deadly, long-surviving movement of pirates and pirate fleets that were based out of the North African coast. They had preyed on European nations and fleets for about two hundred years. Rogers was a mighty Negro from Morocco who had served under great Barbary pirate captains, earning great wealth. He was recruited by Validus in the port of Tripoli to join the ranks of the Boneguard, and the two had become close confidantes in the couple years since. The Negro’s strength had proved invaluable in close combat, and his fierce loyalty to his captain was often taken for granted. Rogers was also one of the few Negroes living in European society with any semblance of power; he was not a slave, like most of his people. Piracy had saved him from a life of hardship. Him, and so many others, Giles thought.
But Giles’ mind continued to wander. What about Lombardi?
Giles stopped there. He was unsure of Lombardi’s allegiances. Then he wondered if Lombardi was even a wise person to have confided in, especially with such a secret as that of Validus’ deeds. However, the cook was a good friend of his. Lombardi is boisterous, blunt…but loyal. Loyal to whom? Giles shook his head and moved on. Francis, the first mate. What about him? He’d probably follow me, or do whatever I asked him to.
That was also true, without a doubt in Giles’ mind. He and Francis had been friends for almost two decades, and both threw in their lot with Validus even before he purloined the Boneguard from her original British captain. If Giles were to fall off a cliff, Francis would jump after him without a second thought. Francis also thought highly of Validus, and would never do anything to dishonor either of his fellow officers.
Now, who else is there? The head surgeon would side with Morgan, and the cooper would side with Validus...
What about different groups of crew? The Powder Monkeys hate the captain, as do the carpenters. Giles finally had to stop worrying about what may happen, and focus on what was happening. He was then interrupted by Morgan at the wheel.
“Master Hawke, when are ye distributing the treasure?”
Giles sank back to reality and the dread of the coxswain’s reaction, surely soon to come. “Tomorrow,” he replied.
“Ah, thank ye,” said Morgan.
Giles couldn’t bear to dwell on these uncertainties any longer; he had to get back to work. He descended to the second deck, where Francis was already working on counting the larger gold coins. “What does it look like, mate?” asked Giles.
“Oi, Master Hawke!” the first mate exclaimed. “The pistoles number almost four hundred!”
“My, how many exactly?” asked the quartermaster eagerly.
Francis tossed the last one into the pile of counted pistoles. “Three hundred and ninety-two.”
Over fifteen hundred pieces of eight, calculated Giles in his head. At the sudden realization of that number’s sheer worth his knees buckled. He tried unsuccessfully to steady himself and instead sprawled head over heels into a mound of gold coins.