This one didn't stop struggling, even to the end. I wanted to put a bullet through his head, but the Captain told me to let him live a little while longer. Teach him a lesson to take to hell with him. He was formidable, I'd give him that. It took four of our boys before we finally managed to restrain him. Bradford wrestled the sword off him while the others muscled him up against the mast and secured him there. While he was thrashing I gave him a hefty kick for all the trouble he was giving us, but at a swift look from the Captain I left it at that. His shouts and curses rang in all our ears as we scrambled around deck once more before swinging back to our own ship.
The ship's magazine was set; all we had to do was wait. Normally I'd be busy moving the bounty we'd acquired, but this time I only had eyes for that man roped to the mast. He was still struggling. The Captain, too, stood silently by watching.
The rest of the crew were jeering loudly. Someone, I didn't care to find out who, took out a pistol and began taking pot shots at the doomed man. Most missed, but at least one struck true. We heard the man cry out, and then the magazine exploded.
It was only afterwards that the Captain told me that this homely boy was actually the son of a powerful Spanish lord. It was at that moment I knew that there were details the Captain wasn't telling me, but I just pressed my lips together tightly and said nothing. The Captain was my superior, but not my friend. We changed course, and for many months I barely thought about the incident.
Inevitably, it came back to haunt us in the end. We were rounding a small island in the Mediterranean Sea when a Spanish ship came into view. Our colours were down, and this ship was so far superior to ours in size and arms that I immediately set our course in the opposite direction. She seemed to take chase, but she was so far away I wasn't worried.
When the Captain came up on decks to observe the situation, he did nothing but silently walk to my side at the helm. "Beauty, isn't she?" he asked gruffly, eyes on the Spanish ship.
I grunted once in reply without bothering to glance back, but the Captain's strange, stiff actions and uncharacteristic silence began to spook me. Not in the mood to tolerate him, I quickly called over another crew member to take the helm and went on my way.
I came back up on deck about a half hour later and all hell had broken loose. The Spanish ship was closer than I ever could have imagined was possible in such a short space of time. Diego was slumped against the helm, dead, and everyone else had their weapons drawn. Above it all stood the Captain, pistol still smoking, furiously shouting orders.
Without thought I strode to the Captain's side, drawing my own pistol as I went. He turned to me as I approached and for a moment I hesitated; his eyes were wild.
"We can take her!" he snarled, and I knew he was talking about the Spanish ship. I glanced at her; now closer, she seemed even bigger, and I could clearly see the guns lining the main deck. There was absolutely no way we could defeat her.
"He's sending us to our deaths!" Bradford cried, violently waving his cutlass in the air.
We didn't have a choice anymore. We couldn't outrun her now that she was so close. Our only option was to fight.
I nodded at the Captain once, then immediately began to give my own orders. It was a tribute to my own authority that everyone, including Bradford, instantly obeyed. Soon the deck was a frantic hive of activity. The Captain and I watched it all gravely, but deep inside I knew that we were all dead men. The Spanish ship's guns could tear us apart before she even got close enough for us to see the faces of her sailors.
I didn't ask the Captain what had happened. I wasn't sure I wanted to know why he was so determined to face this ship - to the extent that he was willing to throw the lives of his men into the hands of the devil for it.
So it came as a shock when, just as the Spanish ship came close enough to fire her guns, a man waving a white flag appeared on deck. I frowned, squinting at him, but inside my heart gave a leap. I didn't want to die that day.
Activity on deck slowly ground to a halt as the men noticed the flag. The Captain said nothing, but when I looked at him his eyes were fixed firmly on the floor by his feet.
The white flag wouldn't indicate surrender. The Spanish ship must have known as well as we did that she could beat us. No. This white flag meant that they knew exactly who was on this ship, and they wanted to talk.
"What are they after?" I murmured to the Captain.
Snapping to attention, the Captain shook his head, then shrugged. "Information, probably," he said, but his answer was so light and casual that I was instantly suspicious.
By now the two ships were so close together I could see the name of the Spanish one in glittering letters along her body: El Rayo Dorado. The Golden Ray. She certainly looked the part. I got the impression that if the light hit her just right, you'd be blinded by sunbeams.
The crew were silent, watching carefully. One or two still hovered near the cannons, but at a sharp look from me they quickly backed away.
As soon as the two ships were close enough to be within earshot, the man holding the white flag hailed us. Instead of replying with the standard dialogue though, the Captain simply said, "What are your terms?" - but he said it too quietly at first and had to shout it out a second time before they could hear him. There was an obvious tremor in his voice that I hoped for his sake he was putting on.
The Spanish ship demanded that our Captain meet theirs for "negotiations". I still had no idea what they wanted from us, though it was clearly more than our deaths. I stuck to the Captain's side as he made his way to where a plank had been balanced between the ships. As we walked he murmured in my ear.
"While I'm gone the ship falls to you," he whispered. "Don't let anyone do anything stupid, especially Bradford. Stay calm, and do everything the Dorado tells you to. I'll try my best to make sure that-" He broke off, then continued. "Do you understand?"
We stopped, and he put his hand on my shoulder. I ignored it, but fixed my eyes on him intently. "No," I said shortly. I could tell by his expression that he recognised everything that was in that one word. I did not understand why the Captain was refusing to tell me what was going on. How he knew what the Spanish ship wanted, and how he thought that "negotiations" would fare us any better than fighting.
I wasn't swayed by the sad look the Captain gave me. Instead I simply stepped back, letting his hand fall from my shoulder, and gestured towards the makeshift bridge. "Good luck," I said.
At that the Captain left. He didn't even look back. On the Dorado he briefly grasped the Spanish Captain's hand and then the pair of them disappeared through a cabin door. The plank remained stretched across the two ships, but two Spanish sailors with muskets took up post at the other end.
I resolved to stay exactly where I was until the Captain reappeared. Behind me, the rest of the crew prowled impatiently or nervously, but I kept my back straight and my hands clasped tightly behind my back.
For an hour or more there was no movement on board the Spanish shop. The sun began to set behind me, and I took satisfaction in the fact that the Dorado looked distinctly less spectacular the darker it got. One of my crewmates handed me a lantern. Most had gone down below now, unable to cope with the tension on deck, and the constant eyes of those Spanish sailors. My hands twitched constantly to my pistol and cutlass; I wished uselessly that I could leap on board and slaughter them all, and end things that way instead.
Eventually the cabin door opened again, but neither captain stepped out. Instead a man with several gold teeth appeared from the gloom and quickly shut the door again before I could discern what lay behind him. He strode confidently to the bridge and looked into my eyes across the gap.
"You are the first mate, Jeremiah Anderson?" he asked, but it wasn't really a question so I simply gave him a curt nod in reply. He grinned at me, showing off his gold teeth, but it was more like a leer. "Your captain requests you come aboard to finalise the negotiations."
I squinted, careful to keep my expression neutral. Was this good news or bad news? Either way I didn't have a choice. Steeling myself, I called Tobias over and gave him command of the ship while both the Captain and I were gone. He accepted quietly, and I could tell he was terrified. I didn't blame him.
Forcing myself to be like the Captain, I didn't look back once I mounted the plank.