THE BLACK GALLEON came down on the wallowing East Indiaman in a sliding rush that sent half a dozen frigate birds lifting and dipping over the heavy waves. Her dark hull was gilded at curving beak and towering stern-castle, and a tall gold cross glittered over her bowsprit, below the white sails bulging on the towering masts. A puff of white smoke appeared at her prow, and an iron shot went arching over the blue waters to fall into the waves with a splash.
An instant later, the big man on the poop deck of the fleeing cargo ship heard the muffled thud of the cannon. Martin Chandos fastened his hands to the rail and pulled, as if he could urge the Forthright to a faster pace by sheer strength. His face was lean under the long brown hair that hung almost to his shoulders, and his skin was baked, by long exposure to the sun, to the rich color of Honduras mahogany.
The Forthright owned four demi-cannon, brass pieces set on wooden mounts and lashed to the rails by hempen ropes. The great black galleon, the Vengador, carried sixty guns, with pairs of sakers at beak-head and stern.
His fist hit the rail capping as Martin Chandos shook bitter laughter into the wind. "There's peace between Spain and England in this year of '65, but she means to take me. We've no more chance to beat her than Tighernmas had before the golden idol of Crom Cruach!"
But the hot Irish blood that beat faster in his veins at thought of a battle brought him to the main deck, stripping off his brown coat of coarse homespun wool and the cotton shirt beneath it. He bared a deep chest, and great wide shoulders under which the muscles moved as if alive. He took an ax and went to a crate and worked arm by elbow with Peter Horne, his sailing master out of Sussex. They lifted out muskets to the eager hands of the crew that ringed them in.
The sailing master grunted, "You mean to fight them, then?"
Martin Chandos paused to breathe in the air that was tangy with sea salt. "I fought them before, with Penn and Myngs, but then we served under the Protectorate, and I had more than four demi-cannon to use. Still, if the Shee fairies grant us a bit of luck, we might give an account of ourselves!"
He took his post on the poop, above the whip-staff hutch. His voice carried to the sailors swarming in the rigging. "Hoist your fore-tacks. You, helmsman, hard aport!"
The Forthright swung clumsily, but she came about to the wind, just as the gunners on the Vengador were putting linstocks to the touch holes. Now the narrow stern of the East Indiaman faced the galleon, and the broadside that lifted the Vengador, intended to smash the cargo ship in one mighty onslaught, went harmlessly into the sea, except for two iron balls that ripped into the stern cabin.
"Lash down those guns!" bellowed Martin Chandos from the rail. "I'll set them myself!"
As the cargo ship luffed about to present her port side to the emptied cannons of the Spaniard, Martin Chandos placed his guns. He set them high, so that he might do the most damage with what he had. Matches flared, and were held to touch holes. The little cannons roared, recoiling on their wheeled mounts.
Their shot tore through the proud white sails of the Spaniard. One ball hit the towering mainmast below her flag, and the cracking sound as the oak mast splintered carried over the waves. Broken, the snapped mainmast came down with its ropes and rigging, tangling the main course in a ruin of parted ropes and ragged sails.
The Vengador veered. On the East Indiaman, sweating men were dousing barrels with water, and shoving iron shot into cannon chambers. Martin Chandos grinned and bent to his task, aligning each gun with steady hands, head craning forward to study his target.
The Forthright drifted past the great gilded stern-castle of the galleon. Slowly she swung until her port rail faced the Spaniard's rudder. With a grim smile on his lips, Martin Chandos brought the flaming linstock down. The gun erupted.
A wave lifted the Vengador and dropped her in a trough of water. But for that, the iron shot that was aimed from the cargo ship would have splintered her big wooden rudder into a thousand pieces. But the galleon was dropping down, and the shot went high, to fall with a clatter of smashing glass above the stern post.
The Forthright seemed to groan as the wind caught and drove her slowly by the swinging galleon. Her chance was gone. The black ship came about, and now her larboard guns were spitting flame and smoke, and iron shot and langrel swept the rigging of the smaller ship.
Martin Chandos stood in the rain of canvas and rigging, a big ax in his hand. He said softly, "They'll hammer us to pulp, and then they'll come aboard."
Twice more the Forthright belched their own balls at the galleon, and twice they brought confusion to the Spaniard. As Martin Chandos set and fired each gun, the cargo ketch fought back. But the odds were too much for the slow East Indiaman. The galleon splintered her sides and smashed her masts and made of the sails and rigging a twisted ruin across her bloody decks.
The Vengador's grappling irons gleamed in the sun as they arched through the air to bite into the wood of deck and rail. Spanish muscles dragged the little vessel close, and an orderly wedge of soldiers in breastplates and morions came yelling over the sides.
The fight was short and bitter. Flying splinters of wood and metal had wounded half the crew. Spanish muskets and steel hacked the others down, from the larboard rail to the poop deck.
They took Martin Chandos with his back against the wooden door of the stern cabin, their swords marking his chest and arms with trails of blood, took him with a metal hilt crashing down across his head, with the long barrel of a boarding pistol thudding hard between his eyes. And even then his great body rose up against the pain and the blackness that was flooding it. He came forward two, three steps, and his ax swung once before his blind eyes and a Spaniard screamed as it drove into his throat.
Martin Chandos toppled like a tree before the wind on the hills of Kenmare, and went face down on the bloody planking of his dying ship.
The boarders dipped buckets over-side and doused him back to consciousness with stinging salt water.
A lean man came forward, Ominous and grim in the silvered corselet and morion that reflected the faces of those who gave away before him. A foot of Mechlin lace was at his wrists, and the rich black velvet of hose trunks and cape gave him the appearance of a nobleman playing at war. But there were a bloody gash on his chin and a powder stain on his sleeve. His eyes were brown and somber as they regarded this man who had cost him more than the last five ships he had put at the bottom of the Mar del Norte. A smile twitched at his thin, wide mouth. “Mis felicitaciones, señor! The compliments of Don Carlos Esquivel Alcantara on your fighting kinship with the god of war."
Martin Chandos shook his head until his long, wet hair flapped at his throat. His blue eyes were hard sapphires in his browned face. Only the fact that two Spanish soldiers stood at each arm kept him from hurling himself at this sneering hidalgo.
"If I'd had the deck of the Centurion underfoot, or that of the Marston Moor, it's not on Mars you'd be calling, you black-hearted spalpeen!”
Don Carlos lifted his brows. "The Centurion? You fought, then, with Christopher Myngs? Ah? Then we are well met, señor! I fought myself at Coro.”
Martin Chandos growled, "There is peace now between Spain and England. A peace you violate here on the high sea."
"Oh, but Captain! There is peace only in the Old World, where court protocol demands such formality. Here, in this wide, wild wonderful world that belongs to Spain, there is no peace. No peace between Spanish gentlemen and foreign bastards!"
Don Carlos Esquivel Alcantara lifted a languid hand, shaking back the foot of white lace that sheathed it, to touch the tiny black mustache on his upper lip. His eyes brooded on the big, bronzed man who faced him so boldly. And then they were lit by a hard, sneering glitter.
"I find you in need of a lesson, Captain. An introduction, shall we say, to the mastery of Castile. Spain has put an iron curtain around the Indies. A curtain of iron shot and iron shell. Those who penetrate it will meet the fate you are to suffer now."
The lace quivered as his hand waved, and men came and put their hands on Martin Chandos and dragged him across the deck to a gun mount, where they threw him down and twisted cording around chest and loins, at knees and arms, so that he hung spread-eagled on the cannon.
The Spanish captain advanced slowly, until he could stare down into the face of the bound man. For a moment he considered him, then said softly, "You are lucky, señor. I might have had you tied to a metal spit and roasted over glowing coals while still alive. Or taken a rat from my hold, and placed him inside an iron pot upended over your hard belly, to gnaw its way through your middle to escape the heat of a fire lighted on the pot's upturned bottom. But that would kill you. My wish is that you live, to carry word back to your piratical England to stay out of Spanish waters!"
He took the long black whip that a soldier handed him. Almost lovingly his palm caressed the long thongs that were whipped around the horn handle. He shook it out and let Martin Chandos see it.
"A cat-o'-nine-tails, Captain. A most ingenious device with which to flay skin from a man's back. As you shall see, as you shall see."
Don Carlos Esquivel Alcantara threw back the lash from him, into the reaching hand of a burly seaman. He smiled softly. "Instruct our captain, Juan. A few times only."
Living fire wrapped itself over his back and around his ribs. His great body lifted and fell against that searing pain. The whip fell again, and again. It stung with the fury of a thousand claws, but Martin Chandos, after that first convulsive heave, showed no response. He heard laughter, and raised his sweating face.
Don Carlos Esquivel Alcantara was standing with head thrown back, wild laughter screaming from his open mouth.
Between his teeth, Martin Chandos rasped, "You find it amusing, you Spanish dog?"
Don Carlos was discovering that his merriment would not let him speak. He waved a hand, and the whip paused; and when he had caught his breath he said, "Most amusing, Captain! Your back shall be marked for all time, for Englishmen to read the fate that befalls them when they come trading in the lands that belong to Aragon and Castile! Now lay on again, Juan!"
That wild laughter soaked into him as the knot laid his skin and his bloody flesh open as it coiled and landed, and gathered itself to bite again. Soon his back was nothing but raw flesh, with blood splattering the gun and the deck below it. Martin Chandos bit down on his lips with clenched teeth. The whip went on, rising and falling steadily.
How long that lashing continued, Martin Chandos never knew. They threw buckets of salt water over his back, drawing an involuntary scream from his cracked lips. The pain sucked strength from his muscles and left him a limp and dying thing across the gun mount.
The Spanish grandee laughed all through the lashing, laughed as a man might at some most seemly jest. Head thrown back, he roared gustily, or, peering through wet eyelashes, chuckled ever and again as the lash coiled down and landed with a sodden splat. His mirth came to the man hung spread-eagled over the cannon as acid comes to glass, to etch it. The laughter ate into Martin Chandos, and found some corner of his being where it fed, and, feeding, grew to become one with the pain.
While Don Carlos amused himself with the ship's captain, sailors from the great, black Vengador swarmed below the hatches of the Forthright, brought her cargo of tools above-deck, and swung them over-side into bobbing longboats to be rowed to the dark galleon.
The crew members were tied back to back and made to sidle sideways to the rail, where a push sent them pitching down into the blue waters below. There, hooks from the Vengador's longboats caught their ropes, and they were dragged thus through the water toward the black ship until, half drowned, they were yanked aboard and cast into the darkness of the bilge.
The whip fell to the deck planks. At a gesture from the splendidly garbed hidalgo, the swart executioner ran to the rope ladder.
Dipping his hand into his gold snuffbox and thrusting the brown powder into his thin, aristocratic nostrils, Don Carlos Esquivel Alcantara stared down at the bloody back of the man hung over the gun carriage. For an instant a black cloud of passionate hate twisted his arrogant features. He lifted his boot and brought the heel up hard against the unconscious man's cheek.
"Account yourself lucky, you English dog," he whispered. "For what your people did to the Armada, for what they have done to Spanish subjects—Drake at Darien and John Hawkins at San Juan de Ulua—I should have torn out your heart and made your crew eat it!" He paused, his slim hand clenched tightly about the silver-mounted butt of a long boarding pistol, breathing harshly. It would have taken little to spur Don Carlos into action. But the sun was warm, and the little Forthright pitched and dipped to the heaving waves, and blood dripped steadily from the inert hulk over the cannon to the deck. At last Don Carlos sighed and shrugged and turned toward the rail.
In an hour the Vengador was a black dot on the horizon, and the little brown ship drifted on, while salt water seeped slowly into its rents and holes, dragging it downward toward the bottom at a gentle pace.
Martin Chandos moaned against the pain racking his big body. Once his head lifted and his eyes rolled whitely as he arched his wide back. Standing on spread legs, he tugged at the bonds that made him a prisoner of the gun, aware that the ship was settling under him.
He mumbled through cracked lips, "There's no strength to my arms. That devil's whip took all of it out of me!"
As if his words exhausted him, he fell forward. His head cracked against the brass barrel and he sagged to his knees on the deck planks.
The brown ship drifted on, sinking slowly. A huge red ball of a sun bloomed in the orange sky. It baked the shell-splintered railing and half-deck boards, and threw a red coating over the wet sides of the big brown hull. Far to port, a faint blue smudge on the horizon betrayed the island of Hispaniola. Out of sight, sixty miles to leeward, lay the great length of Cuba.
The waves pushed, and the wind played, and the wreck of what had been an East Indiaman out of Plymouth drifted on.
Toward dusk the wind shifted and ran northwestward from the Caribbean to the Gulf. It caught the merchantman and hurled it sideways into the trough of the waves until she pitched like a drunkard to the heave of the gray-blue sea. Waves slapped the high forecastle boards and splattered the main deck with pounding water. The spray of the breaking waves showered the man bowed over the cannon, rousing him from his stupor.
Martin Chandos sniffed the lifting wind, his head like that of a hawk scenting prey. A lock of brown hair slapped his neck and exposed his jutting nose and wide spread of mouth and a face that was the color of old bronze. The glaze had faded from his eyes, leaving them cold and hard.
He chafed at the leather thongs, but only succeeded in slashing his wrists until blood covered the thin leather strips. He used his white teeth on them, baring them like an animal between the stubble on his lips. In his pain and helpless frenzy he hurled himself left and right, yanking backward, striving to free himself by brute strength.
It was in one of these convulsive flailings that he discovered a ship bearing down on him out of the dying Sun, looming black and gaunt, silhouetted against the red sky like some obscene monster. Her triangular sail was tight with wind, and his seaman's eye judged her for a small bark. His eyes ran up the shrouds to a ragged black flag on her masthead.
Martin Chandos hung in his thongs and watched the buccaneer ship veer closer, moving across the gap of surging water between them, close-hauled to avoid the clumsy lunges of the sinking Forthright.
The pirate ship swung broadside on, and now the man at the cannon could read the gilt lettering that spelled "Hussy" on her forecastle boards. Men were spilling down rope ladders into a rocking longboat, men that were half naked, with red scarves twisted around their heads, with pistols stuck into wide leather belts and curved cutlasses hanging by chains from their middles. Oars slid out and backs bent. The oar blades dipped into the blue water and lifted to fall again, and the ship's boat skipped across the waves.
Martin Chandos watched a hand and then a face lift up over the splintered wreckage of the deck rail. Then they came running across the ruin of the main deck.
A knife slid between the brass barrel and his wrist, slicing thongs. A voice growled in his ear, "Spanish work I'd know its mark anywhere!"
He tried to nod his head and mumble agreement, but they did not hear him. They were intent on forming a sling from the shrouds, into which they fitted him, swinging him over-side and lowering him carefully to the tender that bumped its beam against the Forthright's timbers. As he felt a hard, wet thwart against his bleeding back, the world went reeling in a pool of water and sky.
Martin Chandos did not feel the surge of the longboat through the water, or the gentle hands that lifted him upward past the opened gun-port lids to the carved rail of the Hussy. Those hands steadied him, holding him upright on the deck as a woman came from the companionway to pause abruptly and stare at him in astonishment. Lizzie Hollister was no grimy ship's wench. Her wide mouth was a red fruit set below a small nose and dark violet eyes, and the wealth of black hair that spilled to her shoulders' skin gleamed, as the dying sunlight caught it, with a reddish glint. Earrings that were strung balls of bright brass dangled from her tiny ears, to match the thick strands of painted metal balls that were draped about her soft throat.
She wore a thin white shirt thrust into a pair of tight black breeches girdled with a wide leather belt, into which a brace of long-barreled flintlock pistols had been thrust. Her long legs, bare below the ragged edges of her breeks, were thrust into bright red boots of Cordovan leather.
Her violet eyes regarded the man who supported Martin Chandos. He was big, with a mat of reddish hair on chest and shoulders. Two gold hoops dangled from his ear lobes. He was totally bald, and a red scar that ran the length of his right cheek from lips to temple was partially hidden in the crimson beard that framed his mouth.
"Hell-fire!" she said huskily. "Is this all she had, Red-scar? Just one man?"
The giant at Martin Chandos' elbow grinned. “And even he bean't in very good condition at the moment." Her bright eyes snapped at his lewd grin. Red-scar Hudson liked this pert hoyden, for all that she was reported to be Sans Espoir's woman. There was a fire in her, and she'd listen to reason, even if Raoul Sans Espoir had taken her on some of his free-booting ventures and it pleased him to think she was worthy of being a member of the brotherhood.
Lizzie strutted to the larboard rail and stared at the yawning Forthright. "No profit in her," she muttered. "She'll go down by the head in a few hours."
Red-scar grunted. "The Spanisher that wrecked her took her cargo and crew. He enjoyed himself with this one, whipping him near to death."
Lizzie turned and came back, moving slowly around the limp Chandos. "He's a big ox," she admitted. Her violet eyes studied his deep chest and wide shoulders and the length of the muscled arms hanging by his sides.
Red-scar bent his head. He whispered, "All he needs is a mite of salve and bandage, Lizzie. He'll be good as new then."
Her face grew sullen and her red mouth seemed to thicken to her thoughts. She shrugged carelessly, but a little fire began to glow under the wide leather belt that bound her black breeks to her rounded hips.
Red-scar caught her thought. "I'll take him below for you, Lizzie. It's your chance to play pirate like Harry Morgan himself. They take their women aft. Why not take your men?”
Lizzie Hollister shook her head, but her eyes were feverish. "Damn your eyes, Red-scar Hudson, that see so much! Take him below to my cabin, then. But only that I can doctor him back to health. He might know things we should learn."
Red-scar put a knuckle to his brow, head bobbing. "For sure, Lizzie, for sure. Just for a mite of doctorin'.”
His laughter followed her to the companionway.