Incendiary

A story of a captain who brings turmoil and disaster upon himself and his closest subordinates by a single act of greed.

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5. Morgan's Demise

That night, the most respectable men became wild hooligans. Five of the pirates, all of them part of the Powder Monkey crew, had gotten into uproarious fights and sustained heavy injuries. Validus ordered everyone back to the ship, sending warning flares which the whole crew knew to mean it was time to reconvene immediately. Validus was certain that if five men were injured and found, there was a good chance some may have been left unconscious in the port somewhere, stark drunk and out cold. So, he arranged parties of seven, each consisting of a leading officer in the crew and two doctors to search for other crew members. It was at this time the crew noticed Julius, the Head Doctor, was missing.

Nine parties of seven went out to look for missing men, Julius in particular; an extensive search of the ship beforehand had proved unsuccessful in locating him. One party was led by Validus, the second by Morgan, the third by Humphrey, the fourth by Harold the Boatswain, the fifth by Francis, the first mate, the sixth by Daniels, and the rest by other minor officers. Giles was left in full command of the ship.

                As the parties marched single file down the wide plank connecting the ship to the pier, Morgan whispered to Harold, “If you find Julius dead, leave him if you can. It’s better that way.”

                Harold nodded in acknowledgement and kept on walking.

                The parties assembled and set off into Puerto Navarro. Those who spoke Spanish would ask around while the others in a group would search high and low along the streets. The groups set out at about ten in the morning and had scoured the port for two hours. One man was finally identified as a member of the Boneguard’s crew, but that took about a half an hour to determine, considering how bloody and dirty the man was.

                It was getting close to noon, and five of the parties had already returned to the ship. Now, only Harold’s, Morgan’s, Daniels’, and Validus’ groups were left. They assembled in a large plaza in the center of the port city and agreed to traverse the four central streets from tip to tail, which hadn’t been searched yet.

                They began from the top of the town and worked their way to the bottom, where they would meet at the ship. Morgan grew very nervous; the captain knew Julius had been in the coxswain’s assembly up on the hill with the bonfire. Validus would surely blame Morgan if they found Julius, whatever the outcome. Morgan decided if no one found Julius, it was all the better. There was less the captain could use against him.

                Validus led his small force down the long main street of Puerto Navarro prudently and inquisitively. He asked someone about Julius’ whereabouts at every turn, and described the man to people in perfect detail. The men in his group, except the two doctors with him, grew very agitated with the captain as he kept spending so much time trying to find a lost man.

                Morgan’s heart was pounding as he walked down the street. He and his men, apart from the two doctors with him, walked straight down the street, not looking for anything. The doctors searched every nook and cranny of the road as fast as they could. At an intersection, however, the group’s gait changed completely. They were one street over from the captain, so every time there arose a possibility the captain might see them, the group spread out, looking high and low, earnestly scouring the sides of the streets. When the buildings provided cover for them again, they returned to their cool, indifferent walk down the avenue. But all anarchy was soon to break loose.

                Validus and his group continued to hunt the street for Julius, when one of the men found a body in a ditch along the side of the road. He hollered, “Oi, Cap’n, I’ve found ye a man!”

                The group crawled into the ditch and turned the fallen person over. He was bald, like Julius, and had a small goatee, like Julius. His eyes were open, but unmoving; his pupils dilated.

                The doctors checked for a pulse and for breathing, but there was nothing. All of them could easily recognize the body as Julius’. Validus climbed out of the ditch, and turned his head, looking down the side-street. He locked eyes with Morgan briefly before the helmsman scurried down the road and out of sight.

                “Damn him!” cursed Validus just above a whisper. “Seven feet of flesh; all of it cowardice!”

                He turned to his men. “Out of the ditch, you dogs! Back to the ship!”

                One of the surgeons cried, “But the body!”

                “Aye, Julius does deserve a very proper memorial, don’t he? Well, then. Morgan can lead us up to his little stomping grounds from last night and we can bury our ol’ friend there. Good?”

                “Aye, sir,” he replied with satisfaction.

                “Then back to the ship!” the captain ordered.

                All the other parties were back on the Boneguard by the time the captain’s group returned. The two doctors were carrying Julius’ body, and the other men encircled them with their arms drawn. Validus was at the head of the small procession, gripping his cutlass fiercely in his right hand. As he ascended the gangway up to the ship, the whole crew was on deck waiting for him; Giles and Francis were at the front. They had found out what had happened and were holding Morgan firmly. Rogers, equal in size and strength to Morgan, held a blunderbuss to the helmsman’s head.

                The captain leaped off the gangway, landing on his feet on the deck of his ship. He strode up to Morgan and turned to his officers. “Giles, Francis, thank you.”

                They let go of Morgan, and the captain hit him in the face with his left hand. The ring on his finger gouged into Morgan’s face, and he groaned in pain.

                The captain stood back and addressed his crew. “Gentlemen of fortune, crew of me precious Boneguard, potential mutineers….” He paused to gauge the crew’s reaction. He could feel definite tension; not even the wind was blowing.

                “Article Seven of The Boneguard Code,” he continued, “written by yours truly, describes the rules of social functions outside this ‘ere ship, especially ones involving extensive amounts o’ alcohol. A party, council, private meeting or what have you that involves alcohol in any capacity, is the sole responsibility of the function’s host. You may have noticed I have never held a social function outside the ship wit’ alcohol because something like this bloody well happens.” Validus pointed to Julius’ body, laid down on the deck in front of the crowd.

                “The party ended at about two in the mornin’ sir,” said Morgan boldly.

                Validus glared at the helmsman. “Nay, it didn’t! You were marching up and down the main street of Navarro with half the crew at three o’ clock and even past then. Or were ye too drunk to remember that?”

                The crew had remained silent throughout the whole discussion. Half of them wanted Validus marooned on a dry spit of land, and half the crew now wanted to do the same to Morgan.

                “I was not leading the men at that time,” said Morgan. “The party had no leader then.”

                “He lies!” shouted a man from the crew. A whole bunch of pirates started shouting in protest.

                Giles stepped apart from them to Validus’ side. He drew his pistol and fired it into the sky between the mainmast and the mizzenmast. “Shut up!” he bellowed.

                The men quieted down and turned their focus back to the captain.

                “Thank ye,” Validus said to the crew and to Giles. “Morgan, you are a thing o’ devilry, ol’ coot,” scoffed the captain. “Does any noble fellow have a different tale of yester-eve? Was there another leader of last night’s grand fiesta? Should I have hit someone else?”

                There was no answer from the crowd. Validus saw Harold with his crew up on the quarterdeck. “Mister Harold,” called the captain, “Who was the leader of last night’s festivities in this ‘ere port?”

                “‘Twas Morgan, sir,” the boatswain answered.

                “The whole night, Mister Harold?”

                “Aye, sir, all night.”

                Validus turned to Morgan. “So, in accordance with Article Seven, any deaths that result from an outside-of-ship-function when alcohol is in play results in the punishment of the event’s host; or, as I like to call him, the event’s chairman. Savvy?”

                A small chorus of enthusiastic “Aye’s” rose from the crowd, mainly from the crew of doctors.

                “And does anyone know what said punishment is?” asked the captain openly.

                “Marooning!” exclaimed someone from the quarterdeck.

                “Aye! Correct!” affirmed Validus. “To be more specific, marooning within seven days. However, since our dead comrade was, in this case, a most integral officer, I say let us maroon the guilty one within three days of the death.”

                A booming chorus of “Aye’s” resounded from the crew. With a proud smile, Validus cried, “So be it! Lock him in the brig!”

                The commotion of the following couple hours was tumultuous. Morgan was again locked up, with many angry followers once again squeezed in around his cell. The midday meal came soon after, and during the afternoon, Giles arranged for the carpenters of the ship to construct Julius’ coffin.

During the afternoon, Validus grabbed a young man from his duties, and handed him a piece of parchment. “Young sir, would you aid me in giving this paper to Mister Morgan?”

“Aye, sir,” replied the man. “Is he still locked in the brig, sir?”

“Bloody hell, yes!” replied the captain with a laugh. “Now go, get on with it.”

The man descended to the brig two decks below. He struggled to get through the clusters of men talking amongst themselves and those with Morgan, but he made it.

“Mister Morgan. I have a message from the captain for ye,” informed the young man.

“Oh, good!” cried the helmsman sarcastically. “What be it?”

The fellow opened the paper and read in the captain’s elegant handwriting:

Ha! The votes of the surgeons are mine! I intend to settle this democratically.

Morgan smiled. “Now, young sir, please tell this to the dear Cap’n: The game is on, then. Tomorrow morning decides the victor.” Morgan paused, then said, “And then tell captain this: Let me out.”

The man delivered this message to Validus. The captain sighed, then smiled. “Thank ye, good lad. Now tell Mister Morgan this: It’s a date, good sir. And … no.”

                Later that afternoon, Validus went into the port with Humphrey and Rogers, his two bodyguards, with whom he had grown solid friendships. That afternoon, he went into Navarro with them to hire a stone mason to construct a crucifix for Julius’ grave. They stopped at another shop to pick up some fine port, and Humphrey bought a new tricorn hat.

                “Besides,” he said, to justify the purchase, “me old hat was all worn out to dry.  And this one, by good golly, it has a plume!”

                Validus laughed and the three moved on. They finished their errands and returned to the Boneguard; however, when they reached the harbour, a boat pulled up. It was a small dinghy docking at the next pier. One of the men exchanged glances with Validus, then quickly hid his face. Validus could make out a wig under the man’s tricorn hat.

                “Pssst! Rogers!” Validus hissed in a whisper, poking his friend in the ribs.

                “There ain’t no need to act inconspicuous, sir,” whispered Rogers.

                “Aye, but there is, lad,” replied the captain. “Look over there.” He pointed to the dinghy.

                “It’s a dinghy.”

                “Look at the men,” beckoned the captain.

                “What about them?” said Humphrey, budging in to the conversation.

                “Look at what they’re wearing on them heads,” said Validus.

                “They’re wearing hats, sir,” explained Humphrey.

                “No, no!” snapped the captain. “Under the hats!”

                “Ah, wigs,” said Rogers in realization.

                “Aye,” nodded the captain. “What kind of dinghy just pulls into the pirate port of Navarro with a crew o’ wig wearers?”

                “The British do,” answered Humphrey.

                “‘Twas a rhetorical question, mate, of course it’s the Brits!”

                “Then they have a ship nearby,” Rogers determined.

                “Or a fleet,” suggested Humphrey.

                “Good mother!” cursed Validus, now charging back to his ship. “This could be sixteen seventy-two all over again!”

                “But the British lost last time they tried to take the port,” Rogers said.

                “That was only because there was an even bigger pirate fleet inside this ‘ere cove!” Validus bellowed in distress. “Look ‘round, mates! We’re the only warship in this entire port.”

                It was true. There was a flotilla of three merchant sloops and a pair of decent-sized Brigantines in Navarro, but those plus the Boneguard could only defeat two British warships at best. Validus knew this, and cringed at the thought.

                “Why would they be here, though?” wondered Humphrey.

                “‘Cause this port is a scourge to the British Empire,” said Rogers. “The amount of pirates that use this place as a base is almost unprecedented, rivaling the towns of Tortuga and Port Royal. Much wealth, and indeed, much Spanish wealth, comes and goes through this port.”

                The three hauled themselves up the gangway and landed on the deck.

                “Oh, Master Giles!” called Validus to the quartermaster who was just emerging from the first gun deck with a bun and an apple.

                “My, my!” gasped Giles, his eyes fixated on the case of alcohol in Humphrey’s grasp. “Is that port?”

                “The funeral plans have changed,” the captain declared. “The British are here.”

                “Well, that’s not good,” replied Giles, snapping back into reality. “What shall we do?”

                “We shall leave tonight. We can hold a candlelight memorial for Julius on the other side of the island during the twilight, then get out o’ here. If there is a British fleet en route to this shabby hell-hole, I want to be as far ‘way as I can when it gets here.”

                “Sounds like a plan,” Giles affirmed.

                “Good. Tell Francis and Harold to spread the word. We make ready to sail!”

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