Copyright © April 2017 by Theo Fenraven
Note: Times were different then, and kids grew up fast. Our modern laws do not apply to this story.
They stayed long enough to take on fresh water and additional meat, then set sail again, heading west.
The Hunter had no sooner cleared the horn of Florida when Skunk spotted a ship flying the Spanish flag. He may have had only one eye, but it was a good one.
Cager, standing on the bridge, gazed through the spyglass. “It’s riding low, men.” The men hurrahed. A heavy hull indicated cargo, and silver or gold was a likely bet.
Quill, legs spread wide beside him, gave Wiley’s shoulder a squeeze. “Best go below, boy.”
He cleared his throat. “I want to stay.”
“No point to that. You’ll only be in the way.” Quill pushed him between the shoulder blades. “Off with you.”
The captain was calling for more sail and the raising of the flag when Wiley left the bridge. He huddled in the galley, which was empty. Everyone, even Manny, was preparing for battle.
He felt weak and useless, being sent away just when things were getting interesting. He’d never been in a sea battle before. Riding it out below smarted his pride.
After thinking about it a while, though, he came to the conclusion Quill had wanted to keep him safe for a particular reason, and he smiled. Maybe they’d keep him after all.
In the end, he was glad of Quill’s order. There was a lot of noise, much shouting and screaming, and even from where he was, tucked under a counter, he smelled smoke.
When it was all over, Cager and his crew had taken the galleon and its treasure. They’d lost three men, a mast, and part of the railing, and counted themselves fortunate. The ship’s carpenter, who was also the surgeon, performed only a few amputations.
The Spanish had lost far more. The Santa Ana Maria’s deck was awash with blood and bodies, but the captain allowed those still alive to depart in a boat. He even made sure they had food and water for a day or two. The Florida coast wasn’t far away; they should make it with little difficulty, though survival would be hard on the mangrove islands. The mosquitoes there were fierce, as were the alligators, and the native population unwelcoming. Still, they had a chance. That was more than most pirates gave those they vanquished.
The men were in an exuberant mood. The treasure was moved onboard. Good wine was found aboard the galleon, and it was shared around. It wasn’t long before everyone was tipsy, not a good thing on a ship, but the sea was like glass that evening. Not one person fell overboard, though a few were thrown due to high spirits. The Spanish ship, only slightly injured, was tied to the Hunter.
Skunk, who seemed irrepressible, asked Cager after a fine dinner comprised of food found aboard the Santa Ana Maria, “And now what, Captain? Back to Nassau at last?”
Wiley tensed and listened as hard as he could. The crew was on deck, smoking, making music, and dancing under a full moon in a clear sky. At Skunk’s question, activity ceased. He wasn’t the only one wondering.
Cager tapped a pipe against his leg, emptying it. “Times are changing, lads. Most of you know that.”
Quill, leaning against a railing, crossed his arms and pinched his lips together. Wiley could see he wasn’t happy about this.
“Mebbe so,” Skunk said, giving the eye to several of the crew, silently asking for support, “but didn’t we just take a grand treasure? On the high sea, pirates rule. We take what we want.”
Cager stared at him, expression hard. “That’s been the way of it, but the blockade in Nassau made our future clear. ’Twas only by luck we escaped. Local interests will send more and more ships to harry us, until there’s nowhere safe anymore. They aren’t taking kindly to us helping ourselves to their goods. Surely even you can see that.”
Skunk puffed himself up. “I see a coward. Someone who’s afraid to fight.”
Quill straightened. “You may want to be careful of your wagging tongue.” The words were spoken softly, but even Wiley heard the threat underlying them.
Cager put out a hand. “Let him speak, Quill.” He packed the pipe with fresh tobacco and lit up. “What is it you want, Skunk?” The question seemed to take the one-eyed man by surprise. His mouth opened, but nothing came out. “Well? Say your piece. I’m listening, and so is the entire crew. You all get your fair share of the take—that’s never changed.”
Skunk hemmed and hawed, then pointed at the galleon. “I want that ship fer me own.”
Cager smiled, puffing contentedly. “By rights, it belongs to Quill.” He glanced at the quartermaster. “Want it?”
They exchanged a long look, then Quill slowly shook his head.
Something had passed between them, but Wiley couldn’t rightly say what that was. He only knew there’d been a settling between them, and it sat right in his chest.
“Take it,” Cager said to Skunk, “and any men who wish to go with you.”
Flummoxed, Skunk sputtered. “No arguing? No threats or enticements? ‘Take it,’ you say?”
Cager looked at Quill. “Isn’t that what I said?”
“It was.” He moved a step or two closer to the captain.
Cager blew out a smoke ring. “I’ve made myself clear. Take the ship. Any men who want to go with you are free to leave.”
“What about our share of the treasure?” Skunk asked suspiciously.
“We’ll divide it equally, as always. You get what’s coming to you. No more, no less.” He raised his head. “Who would go with Skunk?” About thirty hands went up, some of them less forcefully than others. The captain nodded. “It’ll be hard handling that ship with so few, but you’ll manage. Gather your things. Quill and I will parcel up the goods, and you can transfer to the galleon in the morning. That suit you?”
Skunk’s smile was so big, it nearly swallowed his eyes. “Aye, that’ll suit me fine, and my men.”
Wiley bit his lip, uneasy over how things had fallen out, but he was only a ship’s boy. Others mostly knew more than he did.
The crew went back to celebrating. Quill crooked a finger at Wiley, who went over to him immediately.
Pulling him close, Quill whispered, “Wait for us in the cabin. We won’t be long.”
Quill pinched him playfully before moving to Cager’s side. Wiley went to the cabin, squatted in a corner, and waited.