Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chapter 18 : Fox Among the Hens

Tangle donned the coat and hat of his Spanish predecessor. The coat was too small and he could hardly move his arms, but it was blue and the scarlet reverses and cuffs could be easily seen. The other officers were ordered into Spanish uniforms as well. Thus it appeared that Spanish officers had their slaves at their benches. Her guns were hauled up and placed under her arrumbada. A tub with slow matches was lit alongside as back up in case the flintlocks failed, as one or more surely would during an extended encounter. 

Maynard, being a fair-haired boy, climbed up onto the arrumbada and started capering and waving his hat as skylarking boys are wont to do. The wind blew his curls out. That angelic blond head could not possibly belong to the savage visage of a Sallee rover, yet, Sallee rover was what he had become. Oh how he had thrilled to the tales of adventure on the Narrow Seas! Soon it would all be his. He grinned into the wind and watched the enemy approach with the keenest delight. Some of the men climbed up onto the arrumbada next to him and waved wildly to the newcomer.

Ahead of them the Spanish galley made signals. Tangle read them—he had watched and learned every facet of the operation of the galley in which he was a prisoner. "'Tis the Santa María de Madeira. Make our private signal: No. 121. Send 'need water'." Foster jumped to do his bidding.

Tangle kept back. He knew that glasses would be trained upon the Bart's deck and he did not want to be recognized as not being the lawful captain. He kept the tricorn hat well down, which was understandable with the brilliant sun reflecting diamonds of light on the surface of the sea. The wind eddied behind the headland and the great lateen sails flapped and thundered. He ordered sail reduced. Men in Spanish clothes went up; they were a mixed lot of Frenchmen, Spaniards, Moors, Italians, and Turks. That didn't matter; the Spaniards pressed men wherever they could find them and their crews were as motley as any. It was the Spanish clothes that marked them as being Spanish crewmen. Not that the men had a uniform; only the officers wore uniforms. The ordinary seamen wore what ever they had. The slop chest contained tan duck and white linen that was sold to the sailors to make clothes, so they were generally attired in white shirts and tan breeches, but with odds and ends of other clothes as well. Here and there among them were the blue coats of Spanish marines, muskets at their sides. The marines were all Salletines, but since half the Sallee rovers were European renegades, they passed tolerably well. At a distance, at least. Tangle did not intend to close. Not yet.

Soon enough the Santa María found a fishing village and a stream coming down to the water. The fishboats were all out and nothing but aged people, women, and children were left behind. At the sight of the Spanish galleys they fled into the hills. The Maria signaled them to cover her while she went upon the beach. Tangle was pleased to obey: it was the perfect position from which to ambush her.

The wind carried the other galley's stench to them. That smell more than anything hardened the hearts of the men on board the Bart. Even Thorton in his cabin could smell it. It smelled like shit, filth, illness, rot, brimstone, death and despair. It smelled like tyranny. Thorton gagged and covered his face with his handkerchief. Had the Bart really smelled that bad? She must have, but in the rain and wind and panic of sinking the stench had not seemed important. After the Bart had been scrubbed out they had all rapidly become accustomed to the better air. Being chained in such foulness was a fate none of them could stomach. They would die rather than surrender to the Spanish.

The Maria ran her bow onto the beach. The sails hung limp as men jumped over the side to slosh through the water to the beach. They ran and drank from the stream in general disorder. Their officers shouted at them, but the thirsty men ignored them to laugh and cavort and drink greedily from the stream. Meanwhile, her holds opened and both antennas were used to haul up empty water casks and set them on the deck. The empty casks were thrown over the side to splash into the shallows. Some of the shore party fished them up onto the beach. Full of fresh water, they were rolled back and piled into a cargo net to be hauled on board.

Tangle turned to watch the headland behind him. It would not be long before the other galley rounded the point. "Back sails. Oars out." He knew exactly where he wanted to be.

The captain of the Maria was very glad to see the San Bartolomeo was not lost as he feared, so he ordered his boat over the side. With a lieutenant and midshipman to attend him, his gig rowed out to meet the Bart. 

"Prepare to render honors," Tangle called. "Sideboys line up!"

The Spanish captain and his officers came aboard to the sound of a ragged drum roll. The Maria 's captain was a short man with iron-grey hair and a leather face. He had a barrel chest confined in a blue coat with plenty of gold lace and a fine white linen shirt and red breeches. His buttons were real gold while his stockings were perfectly white silk, leading down to high-heeled shoes with golden buckles. His garters were gold braid. His hat had gold braid going around the brim and very fine white ostrich feathers for extra panache. Mr. Hizir saluted him. The Spaniard didn't recognize the rawboned Swede and puzzled at him. But there was no time for chitchat, not with the other captain approaching. 

"Renaldo! We are very glad you are not sunk!" he greeted him enthusiastically.

Tangle stepped out from behind Hizir and said in a pleasant baritone, "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Isam Rais Tangueli, Captain of the Corsairs of Zokhara. You are my prisoner."

The Spaniard's jaw dropped and he turned absolutely white as he confronted that dark Turkish face above a Spanish uniform. "Mutiny!" he growled.

"A lawful prize. The Sallee Republic and Spain are at war and I am a duly commissioned privateer. Your sword, please." The Muslim marines pointed their muskets at the captain. The rowers aboard the Bart brought her head around so that her guns were aimed at the Maria 's exposed stern. "Run out the guns, Mr. Maynard!"

Young Maynard leaped off the arrumbada and his guns ran out with a sound like thunder. Aboard the Maria all was confusion and distress. Their captain taken, the galley aground, half their crew ashore, and the bow battery of the Saint Bart aimed right up their poop! The first lieutenant hung over the tafferel and shouted, "Captain Ximénes! Your orders, sir!"

Tangle spoke smoothly. "We can blow you to pieces where you lie, sir. I suggest you order the surrender. You will be treated honorably. We are Muslims and hence civilized. We are not like you Spaniards. We will not lower ourselves to your level."

Captain Ximénes was not in a mood to die. His brain worked frantically to solve the tactical problem, but while he could see possible success for his galley should he give the order to fight, he did not see any possibilities in which he himself would not die. He stalled. That was his best bet: delay until the other galleys came up and gave him a fighting chance.

"What have you done with Captain Renaldo and the rest?"

"They saved their hides by climbing aboard an English frigate, the cowards. They left us chained to the benches of a sinking ship, so we are not in a mood to humor you." Tangle pulled a pistol out of his left coat pocket and cocked it with his thumb. He aimed it at Ximénes' face. "Please do not inconvenience me by further delay. You can die if you wish, but I don't want to swab the decks again."

The Spanish captain stared into Tangle's pistol barrel. He was positive that Tangle would shoot him dead if he annoyed him any further. Sweat broke out on his brow. "Let us have water and we will surrender. We have drunk up all our vinegar and everything else. We are near to perishing for want of water."

"Granted. Your sword and name, please."

"Don Alfonso Ximénes y Floridablanca, captain of the Santa María de Madeira." As if in a dream he handed over the sword.

"Order the surrender."

He shouted across, "Strike the colors! We are taken!"

So the Spanish colors were struck and the crew waited nervously to discover their fate. 

"Mr. Hizir, kindly take your prize crew aboard the Maria . Release the slaves and put the Spanish crew ashore. Captain Ximénes, your men will fill the water casks under our guns and load water into the Maria . When that is done we will sail away and leave you on the shore. Hizir, get that galley off the beach and turn her around. Make ready her guns. Put her stern on the beach and receive the water with the main antenna for hoist." 

Hizir moved to obey. 

"You will understand, Captain Ximénes, if I detain you aboard my vessel until all the conditions have been satisfied. You and your men will be given water. Put them in the third lieutenant's cabin and guard them well." The last order was directed to his marines.

"Aye aye, sir." There was nothing else Captain Ximénes could say. He was not pleased at the prospect of being marooned on a French beach with the villagers no doubt running to fetch the nearest coastguard, but it was infinitely preferable to being shot or sold into servitude in the Sallee Republic.

All was done as Tangle ordered. The Sallee rovers—for that was what they all were now—made haste. They were greatly elated at taking the Maria without a shot being fired. Aboard the Maria , the galleyslaves were jubilant and disorderly. The rovers bashed a few heads and informed them must row but would be freed if they did as they were told. They would even be granted a share of the prize money. So the filthy naked men did as they were bid and the Maria got off the beach. The galley was absolutely dry. She had run out of water the day before and men were fainting for the lack of it. They rowed and hoped for the best. 

"A sail!" came the excited shout. The cry was taken up on the Maria . The marines standing guard over the water party on shore ran for the boats and pulled hard for the galleys. They left a dozen casks on the beach.

"Turn!" Tangle shouted. Half the oars pulled and half backed, spinning the Saint Bart majestically in the calm waters of the cove. Her prow very nearly raked the chain-wale of the Maria

"Fend off! Fend off!" men on both galleys shouted. Boathooks pushed and prodded and the Bart cleared the Maria 's rigging without catching. 

Tangle held his breath, but she was free. "Get us clear. We need to let the Maria 's guns bear. Take position to her starboard."

Both galleys were facing the newcomer, their oars holding them in place and Spanish flags flying. The private signal was still up on the Bart. Maynard climbed up on the arrumbada and waved his hat. "Wave!" he ordered the men around him. They started waving and cheering. When the arriving galley saw that it was the missing San Bartolomeo with her red-coated officers on deck, they cheered and waved back. They were glad to rendezvous with their missing consort. 

They were still jubilant as the galleys glided closer. The new vessel's name could be read: the San Antonio de Padua. Her captain frowned as he swept his glass over the poop and did not recognize any of the men standing there. "Something's not right. I don't know those men," he told his lieutenant.

"A mutiny, sir? The men are restive from lack of water," his first lieutenant replied.

"Load guns. We'll soon quell 'em."

Tangle saw the fourth galley rounding the headland a mile away. "No time. Out guns! Hoist the Sallee colors! Charge!"

Tangle's voice carried across the short space between the two galleys. Hizir echoed his commands. The two galleys charged forward and the bow batteries ran out as the ensigns came down. Hizir's battery ran slow and ragged, but Maynard's battery shot forward like they knew what they were doing. The purple star and scimitar ensign fluttered from the flagstaff of the Bart, and the former galleyslaves put their backs into it and rowed with a good will. They outpaced the Maria .

The sound of the drums from the San Antonio came loud and clear. Tangle watched her gunners through his glass. They moved smartly, but Bart was already loaded and had a brief but precious advantage. The Sallee galley raced towards her intended victim at eight knots, crossing the glossy water at a blistering speed. The Maria came on slower, but she came. "Aim to sheer off their larboard oars!" Tangle called. "Fire!"

Maynard screamed, "FIRE!" and the cry of 'fire' echoed across the water. His bow guns boomed out within a half second of each other. They were a little beyond musket shot range and the arc of fire nearly level. He had the great satisfaction of seeing two balls strike, one blowing the arrumbada to pieces and the other blowing a hole in her gunwale. The shriek of wounded men came clearly across the short expanses of water. Half a minute later the guns of the Maria fired raggedly. They sprayed a great deal of water with one shot coming near the Antonio's bows without striking. 

"Take her starboard oars!" Tangle bellowed across to the Maria

The San Antonio fired her guns in answer. The Spanish gunners knew their job: the Bart took balls in her bow and arrumbada. Number Three gun was blown off its carriage and all of its crew wounded. A third ball skimmed over the gunwale and killed one of the rowers instantly. A fourth ball sailed through her rigging with no obvious damage.

"Fire as she bears! Grapeshot! Clear her quarterdeck!" Tangle bellowed. He wasn't worried about the bow hits—the forward hold was already sealed off. "Damage report!" 

Thorton in his cabin was practically under Tangle's feet. He heard the shouted orders. He gripped the edge of the bunk tightly as he listened and felt the timbers shiver.

Maynard was busy supervising his gun crews. They scampered and hurried, but the guns were not ready at the same time. It was easier to load the smaller guns than the larger ones. He had the smaller remaining guns and one of the larger guns loaded by the time the prow of the Bart ran up on the San Antonio. "Fire!" he bellowed. 

His guns were practically aboard the Antonio. The grape rained hell on them. Men died. Others shrieked or shouted orders. The Antonio's surviving guns were nearly loaded. As they struggled to get their balls in, the Bart's prow thumped hard and scraped along her side, snapping off oars and knocking standing men off their feet. The butt ends of the oars flipped and swatted their rowers, breaking arms and skulls as the paddle ends were sheered off or knocked askew by the sharp prow of the Bart. All down her side the Bart ran, neatly pulling in her own oars to save them. Nearly every oar on the Antonio's larboard was broken or lost. Half the galleyslaves were hurt by the sweeps. They were thirsty, angry, bruised, and broken. They mutinied. There was little they could do, but they could refuse to follow orders. They stabbed at their tormenters with the ends of broken sweeps.

A minute later the Maria sheered along the starboard side. She did not strike as hard or as well, but she took out the forward oars. The Spanish guns spoke: one, two, three. The Bart received the shots, but down in his cabin Thorton could not tell what damage they did. 

"Damage report!" Tangle howled in Turkish. He repeated the call in Arabic and Spanish.

Their victim was desperately trying to fend them off to prevent being boarded. To be taken nearly simultaneously on both sides was too much to be born. But the officers on the defender's poop were cool, and the swivels were swiftly loaded and fired. The poops of the Bart and Maria each received small arms fire at point blank range, but their own swivels were already at work and a deadly crossfire of grape sprayed the Antonio's poop deck as they passed along side. The Bart received a rake of Spanish grape, but it was poorly aimed and she was little hurt. Thorton heard it peppering the quartering and the small light in his cabin shattered. He ducked instinctively as broken glass fell on his bed.

Tangle felt the wind of a bullet through his coat and the sharp bite of something in his thigh. He gritted his teeth and remained standing. "Row as soon as your oars are clear! Full speed ahead! We'll do the same to the next galley!" He looked around and saw that the tillerman was wounded. "Mr. Bellini, take the tiller." The Italian midshipman was wounded too, but he limped over and grabbed the iron bar and leaned on it to steady it.

They left the disabled Antonio behind and charged to meet the galley that was coming to her sister's aid. The newcomer dared not fire her bow guns for fear of hitting the wounded Antonio. Maynard was screaming invective like a true officer and his five remaining guns reloaded and fired in ragged order. The Santa Teresa de Ávila received their fire, and then the Maria was popping out from behind the Antonio to let loose her guns. The Terry fired on the Maria but aimed a little too wide in their effort to clear the wounded Antonio. The boatswains on the wounded vessel whipped the slaves liberally but could not quell the general mutiny among the chained men. The Antonio drifted helplessly. Her guns were pointed towards shore and no use to support the Teresa. The poop deck was a bloody shambles.

Aboard the Terry all was not well. The chained slaves, well perceiving that two supposedly Spanish galleys had turned on them, had no desire to experience the punishment inflicted on the Antonio. Those in the larboard benches refused to row because they had a good view of the carnage wrought by the Bart. The slaves on the starboard side continued rowing, causing the Terry to begin to turn, swinging her bow towards the Bart.
Tangle shouted, "Grape shot! Clear the poop!" Overhead the marines on the antennas kept up a sharp chatter of musket fire. The Terry's marines were scrambling up the antennas to answer in kind.

The guns were traversed as far as they would bear and let fly again at very short range. The rain of small balls left a bloody trail on the Terry's poop deck. The Maria came up slowly and fired her ragged bow guns at the bow of the Terry. One of the smaller balls hit and bounced off. The rest scattered uselessly in the sea. Tangle swore violently about it, but there was nothing he could do about their marksmanship.

Maynard had his men whipped to the very pitch of excitement and they loaded in two minutes. "Grape, Mr. Maynard, grape!" Tangle bellowed. With that, two guns fired and a few seconds later, the third. Half a minute later the fourth and then the fifth. They raced to reload.

The Bart changed her course slightly to come at an angle against the oars. The slaves on the Terry's larboard side pulled the oars in to save themselves from being battered like the unhappy souls aboard the Antonio. Once again the guns spoke. The Spanish boatswains flogged their rowers and screamed invective at them. On each side commands were shouted in Spanish. More small arms crackled and a grenade was thrown from the Terry to the Bart. Some one scooped it up and flung it overboard. It exploded just before it hit the water. 

The Terry fired her bow guns as they were ready, and a ball blew through the gunwale and went skipping along the bridge, leaving a trail of destruction behind it. It caromed into the coach and Thorton, one deck below, threw himself on the floor in instinctive reaction to the sound of the ball slamming against wood very near his head. The guns of the Bart replied in kind, giving as good as they got. On the Teresa's deck the captain fell mortally wounded. The Maria fired again, and a ball skimmed just above the gunwales at head height, killing one and shattering the halyard tackles. The great antenna plunged to the deck with a mighty crash. Taken by surprise, the Terry had not had time to set her preventers. Sailcloth billowed and covered the benches and made it impossible to traverse the bridge. 

Tangle shouted orders and the Bart began to pivot in place. "Hold your fire! Wait for orders!" The Maria maneuvered along the other side and the slaves on the starboard clawed out from under the fallen sail and screamed for mercy. They threw their sweeps overboard. Wounded and helpless, the Santa Teresa struck her colors. A cheer went up from the Maria and the Bartolomeo.

There was one more galley out there. At the sound of the gunnery, she made all haste and charged into the cove. The carnage left her in disbelief, but worse, the purple flag of the Sallee Republic was flying over it. The Maria saw her and fired. Her shots fell short and scattered in the sea between her and the Santiago de Compostela. Tangle swore mightily and his rowers worked to aim the Bart's bow. The Santiago dumped her wind and ran out her oars to back frantically away. Galleys could row almost as well to the rear as forward; the retrograde motion allowed her to keep her guns on the Sallee rovers. She fired in answer to the Maria's blast and one of the balls struck the Maria 's bowsprit. The shattered remains dangled at the front. Another ball struck the hull obliquely where it veered from bow to midships and left a long scar in her red paint. Maynard was strangely silent, but the bow guns of the Bart spoke again and they did some damage. The enemy backed further and further way, then turned and ran out to sea. Tangle did not pursue.

The captain of the San Antonio swore prodigiously about the stupidity that had placed Maria in the hands of the pirates, the furious attack which had deprived him of the ability to control his own vessel, the ease with which the Teresa had been taken, and the cowardice that had sent the Santiago running without giving a fight. With the few oars he had he was slowly, painfully, turning his vessel around to bring her guns to bear on the Bart's stern. 

Tangle had not forgotten about the Antonio. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw her. "About face!" he bellowed.

The rowers spun the Bart around to bring her guns to bear on the Antonio. With a full and able crew, she made the turn faster than the Spanish. The Antonio was caught broadside to the Bart, still spinning slowly. 

"Fire!" Tangle shouted. Grape sprayed across her waist and there were more casualties. The few slaves who could row threw their oars overboard and raised their hands, begging for mercy. The Spanish captain shouted his own orders. His swivels spun to menace the rowers as he barked at them, "Row or die!" 

The slaves desperately yanked their chains to no avail. "Fire!" A swivel discharged into the rowing gang, killing or wounding six. Some of the slaves grabbed oars and tried to row, but most did not. 

Tangle bellowed, "Prepare to board!" The marines were in the tops as sharpshooters, but they came flying down response to the order. "Ram her! Put the bowsprit aft the mainmast!"

The helmsmen turned the tiller accordingly and the rovers pulled hard and dashed across the short space. The smaller bow guns were already reloaded and fired again, but the big guns were still loading. The prow ran over the gunwale and blue-coated marines charged onto the Antonio. On the other side Hizir did not have a sufficient force of free men to assault, but he brought his guns to bear. Choosing his angle carefully so as to avoid the Bart and her marines, he raked her poop deck. Casualties were heavy. 

The Antonio could not hold off both the Bart and the Maria , but she tried. The marines had to fight their way onto the poop deck, and when they reached it, not one of the Spanish officers surrendered. With cutlasses and pistols, swords and pikes, the two forces struggled in blood and death. Given the odds, the end was inevitable. The colors came down and lay soaking in Spanish blood upon the deck.

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