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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3. The Secret Disclosed

Puerto Navarro was a port located on the Isla de la Juventud, Spanish for “Isle of Youth.” Validus and some crew members called it by its given Spanish name, and all the English sailors on the Boneguard referred to the island by its English translation. The Isle of Youth was a decent-sized landmass south-east of Cuba. The island’s southwest corner was a large bay, and the port was situated in a cove, called Siguanea Cove, protected by the rock of the island, and two tall fortified keeps. One keep was inside the port itself, and the other was almost a mile north along the shore, faithfully guarding the mouth of the cove. From the top of these keeps, one could see over the island outcroppings and out into the bay, and the northern keep also watched over a slow-flowing river that came from inland. It was a terrible port to have to attack from the outside, and couldn’t be attacked in secrecy whatsoever.

                Navarro was built by the Spanish in the 1640’s, but pirates had torn the port completely away from its masters’ grasp within twenty years of its beginning. So when it came to finding a base for the Treasure Fleet, the Spanish mainly used the port of Havana, instead. Havana was a very safe port, but once you left Havana and continued into the Caribbean or to New Spain, pirates were always eager and hungry predators.

In 1672, the British had planned an attack on “the port of ruffians,” as Navarro came to be known, and launched an eight-ship flotilla from the new Port Royal, but the attack was unsuccessful. Two ships were sunk by the armed northern keep before they even entered Siguanea Cove. The flagship of the fleet was damaged fatally by coral in some of the cove’s more shallow waters, and sunk before the fleet reached the port. During the attack, a large pirate convoy was docked in the port, and quickly surrounded the remaining four English vessels, claiming all the plunder for themselves.

                Validus was enjoying the scenery of the Isle of Youth from the great aft castle of the Boneguard. He decided they would spend a day away from the port, and were anchored a few miles off the shore. Validus knew they were in full view of the keeps, but well out of their range of cannon-fire. He also knew Navarro was a volatile port. There was no governor, and whenever someone tried to make themselves governor, they were pursued by all the resident cutthroats, captured, and harmed in brutal ways. British privateers were banned from Navarro in 1655, both by the British government and the pirates of the port. Basically, Navarro was an environment for the hard and determined pirates and other renegades who knew how to defend themselves and survive well in the harshest centers of filth and villainy. Needless to say, Validus didn’t really place much trust in the settlement. It’s a cruel place to drop someone like Miguel off at, he thought, but what do I care? Ever since Validus had taken the priceless medallion of Juarez, even he’d admit that not much else had mattered to him.

                The second purpose of anchoring outside the port was so that all the plunder from the treasure galleon could be distributed without much interruption or distraction. Then, the Boneguard would dock in Puerto Navarro and anyone who wanted to sell, spend, or auction off some or all of their earnings could do so.

                For the first time in a long time, Validus was the only one on his deck. All the rest of the crew was receiving their shares, and none were needed back to their stations until sundown. Validus had canceled all the daytime duties for the special occasion, and he imagined most of the night would be spent eating and drinking, anyway.

                He cruised up and down the deck with his hand sliding along the gunwale, quiet in his own thoughts, hearing nothing but the splash of the ocean against the Boneguard’s hull. He was calm and content, but below him, chaos had struck.

                The galley had become the place of attention for the day. Giles and Francis were just setting up their station and other sailors were helping the two officers create a makeshift place where all the treasure could be effectively distributed. No one but those assigned to help were allowed in galley, which was only about a dozen. Giles was almost ready to admit members of the pirate crew in to give them their earnings when the coxswain violently burst through the door and spotted Giles immediately. He tore his large tricorn hat off his head and whipped it at the quartermaster with rage, a slight offence in the pirate culture.

                “Hawke ye filthy bas…”

                There was no point in finishing that phrase, or the ones that followed. Once Morgan tired of cursing at the top of his lungs, he grabbed Giles’ shirt and hauled him out of his chair with ease. Morgan was at least half a foot taller than everyone on the Boneguard, all except the well-built Rogers, and at least a little stronger. The helmsman clasped Hawke’s throat with one hand, and punched his face with the other.

At that point, Francis drew his flintlock and aimed it at Morgan’s face, crying, “Morgan, le’ go o’ him or this shot‘ll strike through one side of ye head an’ out the other!”

Morgan let go of the quartermaster and turned to glare at the first mate.

“Now what’s this about?” demanded Francis.

“Me shares!!!!” yelled Morgan. “And thit bloody medallion!!!”

Giles got up, put his hat back on his head, and came between the two. “Mister Chamberlain, put your weapon down, and Mister Morgan, let me speak.”

Morgan folded his big arms angrily across his broad chest. “What say ye, ye filthy…”

“I must interject,” Giles interrupted. “You may not believe me, but this was not my doing. I did my best to oppose it, but the capt…”

Morgan cut him short and advanced towards him. Giles didn’t move, and kept his face steady.

“What about the captain?” Morgan uttered slowly.

“He specifically ordered it be this way. It was all his doing.” Giles paused in thought. “Who told you…”

Morgan was already storming out of the galley as Giles’ voice trailed off. Giles glared at Francis. The first mate’s face showed no emotion, and Giles wondered how Morgan could have known about his shares and Validus keeping the medallion. There are only four that know, thought Giles. Myself, Validus, Francis, and … Lombardi.

“Francis, where is Lombardi?” asked Giles sternly.

“Methinks he is on this deck, waiting for us to begin admitting people.”

Giles nodded and left the galley immediately, storming down the deck through a throng of sailors. Some barked out, “Is it time?” and Giles would reply, “Not yet!” and continue on his way, without looking at them. I wondered if I could trust that slimy cook with a secret, he grumbled to himself. I guess not!

William Morgan charged up to the top deck, to find only Validus positioned on the starboard side underneath the mainmast. The captain continued to look out towards Puerto Navarro with his back towards Morgan, as if he didn’t know he was there. Morgan drew a pistol from the brace on his chest with his left hand and yanked his cutlass from the belt around his waist with his right. He charged right up to the captain, and lifted the gun to his head.

“Cap’n Validus, I desire a friendly word with ye!” he bellowed.

Validus turned, acting surprised and staggered back from the gun pointed between his eyes. “Friendly?!” he barked. He steadied himself and gave Morgan a hard glare. “If you want ‘friendly,’ drop those filthy weapons.”

Morgan noticed a large piece of gold looped around Validus’ neck, pointed his sword at it, and replied, “Then be it not so friendly, if ye motive is to hold onto a trinket such as that!”

“Well I assure ye, ol’ mate, those are me intentions.”

“And I’d also like to know why ye lowered me shares!” William growled.

“Oh … did I…?” said Validus smiling mockingly. “Must have been a slip of me pen.”

“Aye, well I’ll take that wretched feather, jab it through ye good eye, and yank it out of ye bad one!”

“My,” laughed the captain, still at gunpoint, “now there is an oath! And you’re right: there is indeed an eye under this ‘ere patch,” he said with a smile and a wink.

“What does ye want to say for ye-selfs?” Morgan demanded.

Validus considered the question for a moment. His reply was, “Nothing.”

In one lightning-fast motion, the captain grabbed his cutlass from his belt and swung it up in the air, slashing the flintlock pistol once aimed at his head. The gun was wrenched from the coxswain’s grip and landed on the other side of the deck. The two pirates locked blades and circled each other furiously.

“So, how’d ye fancy we do this?” laughed Validus.

“Why did ye rob me?!” roared Morgan. “You hate me, and ye wants to kick me off ye ship in the most fashionable manner?”

Validus paused. “Partially.”

“Well, ye’ll have to strike down me, first!”

“I plan on it.”

William pulled his sword back high and brought it down on Validus, who parried the move easily. They both glared at each other furiously and Validus uttered excitedly, “Then let us be pirates!”

Validus leapt upward and delivered a powerful kick to Morgan’s stomach. He groaned and roared as Validus quickly stepped away from the rail of the ship and towards the middle of the deck.

“Arrrrrgh, ye foul wretch!” bellowed Morgan. He stripped off his red great-coat and took off his pistol brace. He still had a scabbard clutching a long knife as a back-up weapon, which made Validus nervous. But the captain wasn’t too troubled; he had a surprise, too.

The helmsman charged towards his captain, and sliced viciously at him. Validus stuck his sword in the way and shoved the blow off. He stabbed at Morgan, who jumped to the side to avoid the maneuver and in turn swung low with his blade. Validus blocked that, too, and struck with his cutlass, bringing it down from above his in an arc aimed at Morgan's chest. The coxswain instinctively raised his weapon over his shoulders in defense, and pushed the captain backward with tremendous force.

“Ye er a good swordsman,” Morgan snarled. “And not only are ye good at stabbing hearts, but backs, too!”

“I’m a pirate; it’s what I do,” replied Validus with a shrug, grinning smugly.

Meanwhile, Giles stormed around the ship. He had searched the entire middle gun deck, and with no luck, he descended to the lower deck. Lombardi has to be around here somewhere, he grumbled to himself. He was sure it was Lombardi that had spilled the secret. He told no one else and he trusted those he did tell too much to believe they could betray him. As he wandered the lower deck, he stumbled upon Humphrey, one of the captain’s closest confidantes, exiting the galley storeroom. The food storeroom was located directly below the galley; a ladder connected the two spaces.

“Hallo, Master Hawke!” exclaimed Humphrey cheerfully. “Thou looks to be hunting something. What be it?”

“The question is who be it,” countered the quartermaster. “And Lombardi it be.”

“Aye, ol’ Lombardi’s at work in the storeroom. Methinks it’s about time ye distributed the treasure. The men are getting mighty anxious.”

“There are more pressing matters at the moment,” replied Giles. “Go into the galley and tell Francis to get started.” Giles took off his broad hat. “Show my guard this and he will let you in. Put it on my chair, too, once you’re inside, if you don’t mind.”

“Pleasure’s mine, sir,” said Humphrey. He accepted the hat, and headed down the way Giles had come.

The quartermaster advanced with purpose into the storeroom to find Lombardi sorting various fruits and placing different fruits in different barrels with the utmost care. Giles went straight up to him and stopped.

The cook lifted his head and got rid of the fruits in his hand. “How might I be of service to ye, master?” he greeted innocently.

“What did I tell you about keeping this a secret?”

“To not tell anyones, with the lone exception of Francis, of course.”

“Right. Then why did you tell Morgan?!” shrieked Hawke.

“Tell Morgan?” the cook gawked. “I never telled a soul! Honest!”

“Is that so?”

“Aye, it is!”

“Then how did Morgan find out?”

“Well, that I cannot tell ye,” said Lombardi. “You sees, I’m not that smart. I couldn’t figure out who’d have telled a secret like that one.”

“That’s okay, my friend.” Giles pondered in thought.

“So where be our helmsman now?” asked the cook.

“The helmsman!” exclaimed Giles, an invisible light going off in his head. In an instant reality returned and knocked him upside the head. “Validus was on deck. Morgan must have gone up to the deck, too!” Giles rushed out of the storeroom and stormed back up to the main deck with vigour and fear … a fear of bloodshed and murder over a selfish theft of money.

Their duel had been short but exhausting. Each fought with a passion and fought to fight faster and harder than the other. They were now on the quarterdeck, still clashing blades, and neither heard Giles Hawke arrive on deck or charge up the gangway. The captain and helmsman were locked in fierce battle when a nearby gunshot halted their fray. They were both so stunned, and found it was Giles that fired the shot. He was standing with his armed hand high in the air and the other clutching the helm.

                “What is the meaning of this?!” the quartermaster cried.

                “Why, we are settlin’ a dispute,” replied Validus. “Surely, ye know very well what it’s about.”

                “Indeed I do,” said Giles. “Put a cork in it!”

                “Thar‘ll be no actions the likes o’ those ‘til Validus’ greedy corpse is lying at the bottom of the ocean!” refuted Morgan.

                Validus turned rapidly to Morgan and slashed him across the face with his blade. Morgan’s left cheek was gashed from lip to ear, and it began to bleed mercilessly. The coxswain let out an angry howl, and slashed at the captain with his cutlass.

                Validus jerked backward to avoid being smote in the face by Morgan’s swinging blade. He ducked low to avoid a second blow, and when he stood back up Morgan lunged forward, throwing Validus off balance. Morgan gave the captain a kick that took his legs out from under him, causing Validus to fall abruptly on his back. Morgan got down on top of Validus, clutched his throat with his hand and with his other sliced Validus’ face from left eye down to the left side of his mouth.

                Giles, in response, pistol-whipped Morgan in the head and shoved him to the deck beside the captain. Both their faces were dripping red and their eyes were wild with rage, their gashes two hideous sights to behold.

                By now, fellow buccaneers were pouring up from below to see what the source of the gunshot was. Dozens crowded around on the quarterdeck, murmuring and chatting to one another. It was extremely rare for three of the ship’s primary leaders to be in such a big scrap with one another.

                “Alec and Jameson!” called Giles. He had heard their voices a second ago, and they came out of the crowd.

                “What now?” lamented Morgan, coughing and trying to spit blood out of his mouth.

                “Silence!” commanded Giles. “Alec and Jameson, take Mr. Morgan to the brig at once.”

                Morgan was in an uproar, but he was escorted two decks below to a tight cell in the brig. Validus was confined to his quarters, and surgeons were assigned to each of them to clean and stitch their bloody wounds. Giles agreed to let them out the next day at sunrise, and proceeded to distribute the treasure with Francis for the remainder of the day.

                It was long after sundown when the plunder was finally dispersed; when it was all over, Francis and Giles sat in the crowded galley with bottles of rum and dozens of rowdy sailors. Giles knew many would blow all the plunder in the next three days, between the alcohol in the galley and the other attractions in Puerto Navarro, but such was their right. At sunrise, Giles would attempt to reconcile Validus and William, then dock in Navarro for the next two nights. The crew would stock the Boneguard and prepare her for a stretch of raids along the South American coastline. Giles knew no more about their near future; that was all Validus had told him. He had a feeling, however, that more riches were close at hand, though after the day he had just experienced, more riches likely weren’t going to do anyone any good.

 

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