Giles Hawke could barely see the other side of the Boneguard’s deck, nor could he keep his eyes open for much longer than a few seconds under the pelting rain. Before the hurricane came upon them, they were some 100 kilometers north of the island of Cuba, right in between Spain’s Cuba and the Dutch Bahamas. But that was six hours ago, and the worst part of the storm had plagued the Boneguard’s crew for the last hour. Her crew of nearly 300 had been kept exhaustingly busy removing water from every corner of the giant ship, and in keeping the rigging steady and hoping the gale-force winds wouldn’t eventually conquer one of the masts. Most feared was the possibility of sinking in the deep expanse of the Caribbean waters.
Giles was quartermaster, and was on the quarterdeck helping to tie the mizzenmast down with as much extra rope as could be spared.
“Don’t unwind that cordage, ye bloody idiot!” he screamed at one of his men. He moved to another. “You, Harold! Climb up the rigging here and get Jenkins up there to help ye tie this to the Crossjack yard. Haste!”
The sailor did as commanded, but with hesitance. It was about the most life-threatening thing to do during a storm, to climb up the shrouds of a ship.
Giles Hawke pushed his hat down farther over his eyes to keep the storm’s daggers of rain out of his face. He charged up the gangway to the top of the quarterdeck to find the captain, Validus, in command of the men in the area and the tall, strong helmsman, William Morgan, bravely steer the Boneguard through the deadly storm, being closely watched by the captain. Hawke walked unsteadily over to Validus, but before he could say a word, a great crack rang through the air, terribly loud even above the noise of the wind and rain. He whirled around to see the jiggermast now slightly bent and bending still under the weight of the hurricane’s winds. Near the crack in the jigger topmast, a little canvas had become loose and had caught the wind, and wasn’t likely to let go. Immediately, Hawke took off for the jigger. He himself began a mad climb up the jigger’s starboard rigging shrouds, and climbed for several minutes before he reached the top of the rigging. He was exhausted, but adrenaline kept him moving. He had to cut the part of the topmast sail that was caught by the wind, and quickly, before the rest of the sail came loose, too. If that happened, the mast would easily break, tumble overboard, and be tossed along at the mercy of the ocean with Giles still clinging to it. He grabbed the cutlass from his belt while firmly gripping the topmast yard. Another, stronger man – a sturdy Negro named Rogers – came up to help him, and they both cut about a quarter of the sail, then quickly secured the rest of the sail with the help of the rope that once bound the severed part of the canvas. The two of them sheathed their cutlasses and made their way carefully down the shrouds.
Back on the deck, Hawke thanked Rogers and proceeded to stumble in the direction of his personal cabin. He got inside the relatively dry room and, entirely spent, collapsed to the floor, falling instantly into a deep, wet sleep.
Giles Hawke was awoken 6 hours later by a sharp “All hands on deck!” from the booming voice of Validus, followed by a, “bring us about upon yonder galleon!” from the same tongue. Hawke picked himself up off the cabin floor and slowly stepped out onto the deck. The skies were not yet entirely clear; the light mist from the storm had been left as a haunting memory of the previous night’s calamity. It was evident to Giles the Boneguard had gotten lucky as he surveyed the rigging and masts. The jigger had even held up fine, too.
The ship was being steered to port in the direction of another ship. Giles opened his spyglass and found she was badly beaten by the storm, and she was also Spanish. He closed his spyglass and saw that not far away from the damaged ship was the shipwreck of a much larger vessel. It was a convoy, thought Hawke. And on the route from fortified Havana, it must be a Spanish one.
Hawke charged up the gangway to find Validus on the quarterdeck.
“Giles! Had a good sleep, did we?” asked the captain heartily.
“Aye,” Hawke replied, “that ship…”
“Yes, I sees it plainly with me eye,” interrupted the captain.
Giles’ eyes widened. “Do you think she’s a Spanish Treasure Fleet galleon?”
Validus smiled through his red beard. No one was sure of the captain’s true origins, in terms of place of birth. He had a patch over his right eye, a thick red beard, and always wore light conquistador armour; why, no one apart from his most trusted mates had the slightest clue. Giles knew, along with a handful of others. Nevertheless, it had saved him from death by pistol three times, leaving him with much more minor wounds that would have killed him had he worn no armour. The name Validus wasn’t his birth name, but meant “mighty” in Latin. By any means, it had become his real name, and the world knew no other name to call him by. “I’m certain it be,” Validus answered, with a twinkle in his eye.
What luck! was the exclamation that ran through Hawke’s mind. A small convoy of the Spanish Treasure Fleet. This fleet, though more of a navy, was massive, numbering in hundreds of ships. Many of the convoys traveled from Spain to Havana, and on to parts of Mexico and the rest of New Spain, where they would pick up huge amounts of highly valuable artifacts of Aztec and Inca gold, and would sail back to Spain to profit the nation wildly. In recent years, their convoys had become larger and more protected, as the Treasure Fleet was among the most popular of victims for British buccaneers and other independent pirates. To find a treasure galleon, likely unseaworthy and still loaded with treasure with its more powerful escort empty and sinking nearby was a pure miracle. It was a goldmine pirates would do anything for, and Validus was a captain who’d choose invaluable riches over most anything else.
The Boneguard was about a hundred meters from the galleon, and Validus had ordered the gun crews to ready all the carronades on the port side just in case matters got out of hand. The galleon had made no attempt of escape; her rigging was badly damaged, and a few of her topmost sails torn. Her deck was in obvious disarray and disrepair. The Boneguard was a monster in comparison, and she sailed up along the galleon’s starboard side; Validus could see the crew was bringing treasure up on the deck and throwing it overboard.
“Me men!” cried the captain to his crew, “draw arms! They er sinking the loot!”
Dozens of men rushed to the port gunwale and drew their guns. Validus immediately ordered them to fire, and Hawke did the same. He never was one for talking, Giles thought to himself.
Right away, the Spanish sailors of the galleon ceased to move, but twenty of them were shot in their surrender. A Spanish officer, likely the captain, charged up the gangway to his helm, and greeted Hawke.
“Hola, mi amigo,” he yelled with strain.
Hawke was about to reply, but Validus cut in. “I am the captain! Soy el capitán!”
“Sì, señor!” replied the captain of the galleon. “Soy el capitán del galéon El Isleño.”
“Fantástico!” grumbled Validus aloud. “Ahora, te rindes! Dénos el tesoro!” (Validus was demanding the crew of the galleon surrender and forfeit the treasure.)
El Isleño’s captain hesitated, then returned with, “No.”
Clearly, this man knows not who he is dealing with, Giles thought, grimacing inside. This wasn’t going to be pretty.
The rage of Validus was provoked. The Spaniards had thrown some of their treasure away, and had then refused to stand down against a ship much larger than their own. Validus stood dumbfounded; he just couldn’t believe it. But fury conquered his stunned demeanour, and he drew a pair of flintlock pistols from his leather belt. One he held against his armoured breast, and the other he aimed at the head of the Spanish captain, and fired; however, with the man now frantically scurrying around his quarterdeck, Validus missed. He paused, then stomped over to Hawke a few feet away and whispered in his ear coolly, “Then let us be pirates.”
Validus used this line a lot. Whenever he had had enough with diplomacy, which never took very long, he would say that either aloud or in a whisper. The crew knew it to translate to ‘pillage, plunder, and annihilate at will,’ or, in other words, to just be pirates.
Giles Hawke drew his broad cutlass and held it high in the air, echoing Validus’ words in full voice: “Then let us be pirates!” And in a flash, the men of the Boneguard sprung to life.
Some of Validus’ crew hurled grappling hooks at the Spanish ship and pulled the vessels closer together. Others set the planks into position so the pirates could board onto the enemy deck while most of the crew were protecting them and distracting the Spaniards with gunshots and small grenades. Then, the planks were moved into position and Validus led the charge across them to the deck of El Isleño.
The frightfully tall and broad-shouldered William Morgan crossed the plank behind his captain and raised his blunderbuss. The blunderbuss was a preliminary shotgun that was very devastating up to a few meters away. It had a smaller range than a flintlock pistol and had the power to wound a dozen men at once, provided they were all squished together. Morgan hopped off the plank onto the Spanish ship and took immediate notice of a large soldier charging in his direction. Already loaded, he aimed and fired the gun just as the big soldier was raising his musket. William guessed he was more than three meters from his target, and the blunderbuss took the soldier out in one shot.
His body was peppered with shot that bore holes through his skin, holes which quickly began to drip with blood. As the soldier fell, so did another Spaniard who seemed to have received some of William’s shot spray. To avenge his own casualty, the soldier rolled on his side and feebly drew a flintlock pistol from his belt.
William grabbed his sword the belt at his side, lunged forward at the fallen Spaniard and stomped down on his victim’s hand. He pinned it there, then brought his cutlass down upon the hand, slicing it with shredding force. He nearly severed the arm completely, and picked up the man’s pistol and shot his victim one more time, to end his cries of agony. He saw a Spanish sailor yelling at him from the other side of the ship’s deck. His gun was aimed at William’s face. Morgan ducked as the sailor attempted a shot at him, and missed. He aimed his own pistol at the sailor and fired, but he missed also. William cursed the inaccurate flintlock loudly and hurled the pistol at the sailor.
The poor sailor, still trying to reload his firearm while keeping clear of other pirates, took the air-borne pistol straight in the face. Shocked and staggered, he lost his balance and fell backwards. The gunwale on the edge of El Isleño, however, couldn’t save him, and he fell back over the rail and plunged head-first into the blue expanse.
The battle aboard El Isleño’s main deck was chaotic but short-lived. Some of the Spanish officers retreated to the lower gun decks, and shortly after, El Isleño began firing round shot at the Boneguard.
On the Boneguard, Giles Hawke rushed down from the upper to middle gun deck. He had to give the order to fire; the Boneguard couldn’t accept defiance like that from an inferior, and nonetheless crippled, Spanish ship. He gave the command to fire, and the thirty-two cannons that were prepared to fire did so, and with a deafening roar.
The Boneguard’s massive broadside was devastating. From tip to tail, El Isleño’s entire starboard side sustained considerable damage. After that, there was no more cannon fire from the Spanish galleon. Validus now gave his men orders to proceed to the lower decks to wipe out the remaining Spaniards. A moment later, he left William Morgan in charge of securing the upper deck and the captain’s quarters, and went down to the lower decks himself.
As he descended the steps to the middle gun deck, one of his bodyguards, a short stocky Eastern European named Humphrey approached him.
“Sir,” he began in his foreign Russian accent, “it doesn’t look like there are any left alive on this deck.”
“Ye be right,” responded the captain, scanning the immediate area momentarily. “It sure doesn’t. Thank ye, Humphrey.”
Validus’ officer was right; across the middle gun deck, there were only corpses, some far more marred than others. He ordered for everyone to return to him. “Now, lads. What say the lot o’ ya? Shall we proceed to the deck below?”
He was greeted with a chorus of “Aye’s,” so the captain and his men continued to the lower gun deck.
There were even fewer guns on the lower deck. Validus guessed there might have been only two dozen cannons on the entire ship. Which means this ship was surely loaded with treasure, he thought hungrily to himself. I wonder how much the mangy treasure shippers were able to throw overboard. Validus grimaced at the thought and bade his men search the deck thoroughly for anything of value.
El Isleño’s lower gun deck had an entire room full of treasure in an aft cabin. Validus entered the small hole of a room with two of his men. There was only one living Spaniard on the second deck, and he was in that room, kneeling down looking at something. He was large and muscular, and he stepped back to reveal a second Spanish man. This one was propped up against the port side of the hull, and was much smaller. In his throat was a large piece of wooden shrapnel, about the size of a big cutting knife, Validus observed. Perhaps as wide as the blade of a broad cutlass, but only as long as a small dagger. Nevertheless, a fresh flow of blood was being steadily released from the young fellow’s deadly wound.
Validus noticed the larger man, the one alive, was very distressed, and looked like he could break into tears, but was clearly too frightened by the pirates to cry. “Quién es él?” Validus asked the man, meaning ‘who is he?’ pointing to the dead one on the ground.
“Mi hijo,” replied the Spaniard in a whisper.
Inside, Validus was choked. He would admit he was, without a doubt, a hard and gritty pirate, but he sympathized for the man whose son he had caused the death of. Validus removed his helmet, and asked the man, “Tú hablas ingles?”
“I speak little,” was the Spaniard’s sad reply.
“I’ll tell ye what,” said Validus. “Come aboard me ship. Ye can be treated honorably as a prisoner of war, or more honourably as part of me crew. I can take ye to a Spanish port, how’s that?”
“But you are… pirate,” said the Spanish man.
“Then we shall judt raid the port, aye? Ye can sneak out and go wherever ye wants during our rampage.” Validus chuckled. “I’m only kidding me-self. We go to a port full of pirates who enjoy our company. There will be no bloodshed. We’ll just resupply our ship. A common practice of ours when there’s near three hundred mouths to feed, aye? What say ye?”
“Bueno. I thank very much. And my name is Miguel.”
“Aye,” replied Validus, and shook Miguel’s hand. “On pain of death, I shall keep me word.” Validus turned to one of his men. “Humphrey, do continue the search of the ship. We can’t have killed them all with two-and-thirty balls.”
“Aye,” Humphrey answered.
Validus turned slowly to Miguel. “So, dreadfully sorry about ye lad. Honest, honest.”
Validus and Miguel left the small den as other pirates were brought in to examine the treasure. The two returned to the Boneguard and had a long talk together.
As Giles Hawke had watched his captain escort the Spaniard aboard, he was surprised at the compassion of his good friend. It was a side he saw seldom, but one he always felt grateful for. Underneath that armoured breast is indeed a heart, Giles thought.