To read the past two parts of “Pirate Hunters,” check out Volume 2, Issues 2 and 3 in Inkwell Literary Magazine’s online archive.
Once we had docked in A Coruña, Captain Deney took Monkey and Bucko into town to look for our contact. Cook, Willie, Fiddler, and I, along with a few others, left the ship a few minutes later to restock on supplies. A Coruña was sort of like a Spanish version of Whitby. It was not a very large town, nor a very busy harbor. That was understandably due to the years-long tension between Spain and my own country. Being on the north side of Spain, A Coruña was closer to the British Isles and therefore isolated from many Spanish trade destinations. The town was full of rich Spaniards strutting around in blindingly white lace and rich, curly wigs. Ornate canes or swords added a third beat to the clopping of their high-heeled boots on the cobblestones. Greatly outnumbering this wealthy lot, however, were the poorer fellows of the Spanish population. They loafed around on crates or barrels, wearing faded tricorn hats and dirty brown vests, and calling out to each other in lazy voices. Thankfully, both classes paid us about as much heed as the cats and dogs in the street, and we gathered our supplies in a matter of hours.
The sky was a yawning red when we returned to the Adventurer that evening. I was helping unload the sacks, crates, and barrels when I felt a strong hand touch my shoulder.
I turned around. It was Dabu.
“The captain wants to see you in his cabin.”
I shoved his hand away. “Don’t touch me.”
Dabu ignored my outlash and marched to the captain’s quarters. Reluctantly, I followed but kept a purposeful distance.
Only two people occupied the cabin when we entered. One was Captain Deney himself. The other was one of the white-laced, curly-wigged Spaniards. He sat in the red upholstered chair with one leg over the other and his right hand delicately twirling his moustache. He looked up, mildly interested, at my entrance. Deney, who had had his fists resting on the desktop, straightened himself.
“Señor Sánchez, this is Marine, my navigator.”
“How do you do?” the Spaniard greeted me in a warm accent.
“Very well,” I replied. “And yourself?”
“Not so well. I think the paella I ate today had some bad fish in it.”
With our conversation now at a lull, I looked to the captain for an explanation. He obliged. “Sánchez is our lead on Vaydor. I need you to chart our course to the location he directs. Now, señor, if you would be so good as to explain to my two men here the nature of this mission.”
The Spaniard drained the last of the wine in the small glass that the captain had provided. Delicately setting it down, he began the following tale.
“Although I am wealthy, señores, I must inform you that I am not of noble birth, nor am I a businessman. My wealth comes from my ancestor who served under the famous conquistador Hernán Cortés some two hundred years ago now. Since then, we have become a family of investors, and we have profited greatly, as you can see.
“A few months ago, I was cleaning out my family’s vault in the Banco de España when I came across some of my ancestors’ old belongings. Among some valuable items brought over from Mexico, I discovered a musty chest filled with documents, among them the journal of my ancestor, Fernando de León, who served under Cortés back in the day. I began to read the journal out of curiosity, but my curiosity turned into rapture as he began to describe the unexplored continent. What most captured my attention, however, was this: after Cortés laid waste to the Aztec armies, de León seized the moment and convinced some Aztecs to bury a considerable amount of gold under the Templo Mayor. This account is the only one in any of my family’s writings. Later, my ancestor acquired some other loot, which is what became the basis of our current wealth. But that first treasure is never mentioned again, and as I said, it is obvious that this gold is distinct from the gold my ancestor brought back to Spain.”
“What about Vaydor?” Dabu asked.
“Patience, amigo. Naturally, I shared my discoveries with my family, including my twin brother, Xavier. Immediately, we sought to sail to Mexico, and we went in search of a ship. We still had not found a ship when one night my brother disappeared, along with our ancestor’s journal. None of my family knew where he had gone. Finally, two days later, I spoke with his lady, who—among many tears—revealed to me that he had betrayed me and hired a pirate by the name of James Vaydor by promising him half the treasure!”
Here Sánchez needed a moment to compose himself. He clenched his silken handkerchief.
“What could have driven him to do that?” I asked, incredulous.
“I’m sure I haven’t the slightest idea. Why he would throw his lot in with pirates instead of his own brother is a question beyond my comprehension. Thankfully, I still have my own notes and therefore still know the location of the treasure. When news of my brother’s shameful act spread, I contacted a friend of mine at the bank. As it turned out, he was a secret donor to the Ocracoke Guild and made the necessary connections for me to request your aid. I assure you, I can pay you handsomely if you can bring my brother and Vaydor to justice and help me find my family’s treasure.”
“We don’t want money,” Captain Deney said. “We just want Vaydor.”
Just then, we heard the men shouting outside. The captain seemed annoyed. “Go check on them, would you, mate?” he told Dabu.
Suddenly, the sharp report of a pistol shot assailed our ears. Deney and Dabu bolted out the door, closely followed by the Spaniard and me. It was dark outside, the only specks of light being the orange glow of torches, lanterns, and the occasional pistol or musket. Deney, Dabu, and Sánchez drew their swords, and I cocked the pistol Blast had given me.
Blast appeared from belowdecks, armed with two pepperboxes. “Scurvy pirates! I’ll feed ya with lead till ya burst!”
“Blast!” Deney shouted, “What’s going on?”
“We were loading the supplies when men started attacking us in the dark! Harr harr! Them cowards wouldn’t dare do it by day.”
The five of us rushed to the gang plank. On the dock, cutlasses flashed in the dim light between pistol and musket shots. The scent of gunpowder mixed with the normal sea-salty smell. We stormed onto the dock to aid our shipmates. Just when I was about to pick a target, the shadowy forms of our assailants retreated.
“After them!” Captain Deney shouted, but his order was countered by frantic shouts from Bucko. “Take cover! Get down!”
Before I could react, there was a blindingly bright light, and a hot force hurled me and several others onto our backs, knocking the wind out of me. I realized someone had shot a powder keg. When I was able to sit up, I caught a short glimpse of a tall figure standing on the far end of the dock. What drew my attention was how calmly he stood there while our attackers ran past him. His eyes were obscured by a wide hat. I could see only the lower part of his face, which was covered by a scraggly beard. He wore a long red coat, and a sabre hung by his side. Slowly, deliberately, he lowered a musket from its firing position and handed it to a man who was waiting beside him. For a few seconds, he stared. Fear gripped my heart when I realized he might be looking at me. But the next moment, the man vanished, along with my fears.
I became conscious of the men beginning to stir in the semi-darkness around me, moaning and groaning as they realized their wounds. Some were quite seriously wounded from the explosion. More men came from the Adventurer to aid the injured.
A pair of black boots clomped to a halt beside me. I looked up. It was the captain. Without exchanging words, we both knew the other had seen the sinister marksman.
“Vaydor,” Deney said.
As I stood up, Sánchez sidled up to us, still with drawn sword.
“You said Vaydor had already sailed,” Deney stated sternly.
“I thought he had!” the Spaniard protested.
Before the two men could argue any further, Monkey leaped into view and sprinted up the gang plank. “The sails be afire!” he shouted.
Glancing up, we saw that tongues of flame were indeed consuming our beautiful white sails with ravenous hunger. The captain and Dabu began shouting at their men, and all who could be spared worked feverishly to quench the fire with sea water.
It was excruciating work, filling buckets from the dock, passing them up to the ship, and then up the rigging to the yardarms. By the time the flames had been quenched, the men were exhausted, the night was pitch black, and the next morning was not far away.
But exhausted as I was, Deney kept me up to discuss our destination with Sánchez. Grudgingly, I pored over charts and maps of Mexico with the Spaniard in the captain’s cabin. While we were doing so, Dabu entered with a dark, longish object in his hand. He tossed it onto the desk. It was a charred crossbow bolt.
“They fired that at the sails while we were fighting.”
Captain Deney picked it up and examined it, testing the point with his fingertip. “They tricked us well. We were taken completely by surprise.” He set the bolt down with a frown. “I don’t like it when I’m taken by surprise.”
“Will we stay in port for repairs?” Dabu asked. Sánchez and I looked up expectantly. I hoped the answer would be yes, but I knew Sánchez wanted to sail.
“No,” Deney said. “We sail at first light. We’ll have to patch the sail on the way somehow. It’s too dangerous to stay here. We need to get out of Vaydor’s sights. He knows where we are, and we don’t know where he is or how many men he’s got.”
My heart sank. Our mission was off to a very bad start, and the captain was too stubborn to see that we needed rest and time. Dabu left, and Sánchez and I finished discussing the charts. When I left, I cast one final glance at the captain. He was in the red chair, reading his Bible by the flickering light of a lantern.
I closed the door and breathed in the cool, salty evening air. I walked over to the railing and glared down at the murky waters. I felt like the faceless, gentle waves were mocking me as they quietly lapped against the sides of the ship. Not knowing what else to do, I slammed my fist onto the railing as hard as I could and then went to curl up in my hammock, lulled to sleep by bitter thoughts about how my life as a free man was turning out.