by Nathan Smith
With a clever enough plan, one man (or a lad of sixteen years) could depose a pirate captain.
While Captain Rodriguez de Medina and his pirate crew are on the beach partying, the three young prisoners in the brig of his ship, the San Paulo, are plotting. Their plan: steal the ship, steal the infamous reputation of Rodriguez de Medina, steal his plan to capture the gold laden Man-of-War, the Endurance.
The three adolescents steal the San Paulo, but manning a ship with three sets of hands is one thing—attacking the Endurance is a whole new beast. But James, the leader of the pack, has a plan. He will rely on the feared reputation of Captain Rodriguez. Every ship that has faced Captain Rodriguez in the past eight months has surrendered without a fight. This is the crux of James’ plan. No one, including the Endurance, knows the San Paulo was commandeered by three ruffians. They’re going to impersonate Rodriguez and the Endurance will surrender her treasure. Or so James hopes.
BUY THE BOOK
Every Mutiny Needs Mutineers
Waves rock the Spanish warship. The lantern casts a shadow across the crate of oranges that sent me tumbling. I reach for a piece of fruit before it rolls away, but a hand reaches down, hooks my arm, and pulls me up with the momentum of the boat. The boy brushes off my shoulder. He holds the lantern to my face to make sure I’m not too scuffed up. A girl of seventeen has her legs dangling over a crate, watching us. Her soiled yellow dress is like a wilted sunflower in the brig of the pirate vessel, the San Paulo.
The three of us are the sole occupants of this dripping cell. They want to escape as much as I do. All we need is a plan. For, with a clever enough plan, one man—or a lad of sixteen years—could depose a pirate captain.
We may be hunkered in a musty brig with no light save our little lantern. The waterlogged walls may creak. Our bunks may be damp with rot. But we have an opportunity. An opportunity in need of a clever plan.
It just so happens that I have a very clever plan.
Crafty as my plan may be, I cannot steal an entire pirate ship by myself. Much less sail it. Every mutiny needs mutineers.
Now to enlighten them of the opportunity.
“Tonight, we can break out of here, steal this ship, and then steal enough gold to sit high and pretty for a dozen lifetimes, but there'll be no going back. No matter what happens, we can never show our faces in civilized, or uncivilized, society again. We’ll have to disappear somewhere remote. Africa maybe. I need to know if you’re both completely committed.”
The girl narrows her eyes, but leans in. She’s skeptical yet intrigued.
The boy has his feet planted against the rocking ship, arms crossed. He chews his bottom lip and intently studies the stream of water sloshing across the floor. He’s obviously considering my proposal.
“Well?” I prod.
He looks up. His hair is dark brown and held back from his eyes by a ratty bandana. He’s small for sixteen. A torn brown vest covers his grimy tunic. His chin is hairless, but lantern light reflects fire in his eyes.
He was the ship's cabin boy. Back when I was the only prisoner of the San Paulo—and before he got tossed in here with me—he’d come visit. We’re the same age. He liked my company and, truth be told, he didn’t have any friends among the crew.
“How do I know I can trust you?”
“If Captain Rodriguez hadn't thrown me in here with you, you couldn’t.”
Rodriguez de Medina is the soon-to-be-previous captain of the San Paulo. He’s an odd mix—a violent madman and a devout Catholic. Well, as devout a Catholic as you can be and still be a pirate. At least devout enough to name his ship the San Paulo. He wanted to name it El Ángel, but the crew nearly mutinied. So, he settled for naming it after a saint.
When the British Navy knocked-off Blackbeard, Rodriguez took up the mantle of the most feared pirate in the Caribbean. I won’t mention how many ships he’s taken or the fortunes he’s won. It would take far too long.
Only fools aren’t afraid of him and the influence he wields among outlaws. Every pirate between Nassau and Barcelona knows and respects Captain Rodriguez de Medina.
That’s why, after stealing his ship, we’ll have no place in uncivilized society.
“Rodriguez threw me down here with the likes of you because I spilt his ink. I have no love for the captain,” Charlie says.
The answer to my question is obvious—I can trust Charlie because he hates Captain Rodriguez.
It’s the girl’s turn.
Her eyes are still fixed on me, ready for me to get on with the plan.
“And you, princess? Are you in?”
“I’m no princess. I’m the daughter of a governor,” she corrects me.
Her name is Isabelle. She’s a Spaniard kissed by the sun because she refused to stay away from the ocean. Her skin is nearly as dark as mine. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was mixed blood, like me. I’ve got the skin of a light African, but the green eyes of an Englishman—a blend that never ceases to irritate the white man.
Charlie is a scorned urchin from a scorned port town no one has ever heard of. Isabelle, however, is the daughter of the Governor of Havana.
She has power from her family name, and from the make of her soul. Some people wield power like a sword they were born holding. She’s one of those people. She makes you believe her head was meant to wear a crown.
Other people, like me, have to wrestle power from the cold, dead hands of men like Captain Rodriguez.
I overheard Captain Rodriguez's plan to ransom her. The Governor is willing to pay a fortune to get Isabelle back. But Rodriguez has other items on his agenda. He didn’t plan on ransoming Isabelle until he took the British treasure ship, the Endurance.
The Endurance has more treasure in it than the New World has ever seen in one place, and it’s on its way to London. It’d be a shame to pirates everywhere if it arrived unmolested.
The Endurance presents a rare opportunity. Never has a ship so laden with treasure sailed past grimy pirate hands. Even Rodriguez can’t muster a prize much larger than a load of sugar stolen from traders leaving the colonies. The Endurance carries more loot than Blackbeard could have amassed given four lifetimes.
And soon, it’ll be mine.
Isabelle is crucial to the plan. We need a third conspirator. But she’s a liability no matter which way you slice it. Either the governor’s men will come looking for her, or she’ll try to turn us in before we take the Endurance.
“Yes or no?” I ask.
“Let me hear your plan. Then I’ll decide.”
She’s a smart one, wants to see all your cards before she’ll commit any of hers. Calculating.
I want her to realize the magnitude of my plan. “There’ll be no going back, even if we fail. We’ll spend the rest of our lives in some uncivilized place, the lords of great treasure, but hidden nonetheless. You’ll never be able to go back home.”
“I’ve got nothing to go home to.”
That’s probably the best I’ll get from her. I motion for them to come close. “My name is James.” They should know the creator’s name—the god of this genesis of immense treasure. “How many crewmen do you two think are currently left on board?”
Isabelle leans in, eyes wide—she sees where I’m going. She admires the boldness of the plan. “No more than four. The rest are on the beach.”
Now you see the opportunity we’ve been presented.
All that stands between us and ownership of the San Paulo are four pirates.
The rest of the crew is on the beach, partying around a bonfire, relaxing before their date with the Endurance tomorrow evening.
The San Paulo is anchored in a remote bay. No port cities around for miles. If we run off with the ship, Captain Rodriguez and his crew will be marooned.
“We dispose of the crewmen currently aboard, and we take the San Paulo.” I lean back and let them consider my proposal.
Isabelle chuckles. “Even if we could somehow throw those poor saps overboard, and then, by some miracle of God, sail this ship out of the bay, what will we do with a stolen pirate ship? Become pirates ourselves?”
“Yes.” My eyes lock with hers and I think she wants to smile. “That’s the plan, but we won’t be pirates for long. Only a few days. My plan has three stages. Stage one, we dispose of the four crewmen and steal the San Paulo. Stage two, we move into position to relieve the Endurance of her treasure. Captain Rodriguez has her course marked on the map. Correct, Charlie?”
Charlie nods in the gloomy dark—a conspirator’s night. “Aye. Before he threw me down here, I saw the map and the Endurance’s expected position. The map is tucked away in his study. His plan was to take the Endurance ’s gold and then sail for Havana to ransom Isabelle.”
“You won’t be ransoming me,” Isabelle says, her voice unyielding as iron.
A simple enough request. “Alright, we’ll drop you off wherever—”
“No, you’ll take me with you to Africa.”
“Fine. Africa. There, that’s settled. Which brings us to stage three: we sail the ship across the Atlantic and find a remote settlement in Africa. Somewhere that won’t question why three adolescents have the treasure of a king. And then we’ll live out the rest of our days, counting gold, drinking rum, and napping in the sun.”
Charlie grins. He’s sold.
But Isabelle—she’s shaking her head. “Your plan is truly brilliant,” she whispers sarcastically. “We’ll be the richest Europeans on the African content, but the San Paulo isn't a small sloop. How will we sail a three-mast warship?”
I hadn’t fully considered the how of the plan yet. How hard could it be? I pride myself in simple deviousness. I brush her concerns away with a wave of my hand. “Sailing a ship is easy. You just drop some sails and point her in the right direction. And besides, Charlie is an expert. He studied under the great Captain Rodriguez. He knows how to sail the San Paulo. Isn’t that right, Charlie?”
“I read a book on sea navigation once.”
“See, an expert.” I pat Charlie’s shoulder.
“You can't be serious. There’s no way. And anyway, if we do somehow manage to sail the San Paulo, what will we do when we encounter the Endurance? Do you expect her to just give you her treasure?”
I smile. This is the best part of the plan. “That’s exactly what I expect. She’ll hand it right over. Charlie, when was the last time the San Paulo engaged in combat?”
“If we hadn’t had a rumble with Captain Marcelo and the Damascus a few weeks ago, it would have been nearly a year. But we shouldn’t count that. Rodriguez and Marcelo are old rivals and can’t resist crossing swords. No cargo ships have put up a fight in eight months.”
“Exactly. Ships don’t fight Captain Rodriguez anymore. He is the most feared pirate in the Caribbean. His reputation, not his cannons, beat his prey into submission. Opposing captains surrender. They know they don’t stand a chance. We’ll use Rodriguez’s reputation to rob the Endurance. We'll sail Captain Rodriguez's ship, fly Captain Rodriguez’s flag, and the Endurance will think we’re Captain Rodriguez and they’ll lay down.”
“And if they don’t?” Isabelle asks. “If they put up a fight?”
“They won’t,” I say, hoping it’s true.
A silent moment passes.
“Well?” I ask.
“I was sold five minutes ago. I’m in,” Charlie says.
Isabelle is silent. She’s obviously turning the thoughts in her head, calculating our chances. She doesn’t want to go back home, that much is obvious, but I can’t understand why. Why would you leave a life of wealth?
Her lips purse. “Not only does your plan require the three of us to perform impossible tasks, like sailing a warship by ourselves, it puts us in danger of pirate hunters. What if we’re sailing along and bump into Captain Solway of the London Wolf? We’re near the Fortress of Long Rock—Solway patrols these waters. You've heard stories about what he does to pirates. What if he catches us? What if we hit a storm? What if the Endurance isn’t ready to hand over her gold? What if—”
“We can’t control the ‘what ifs.’ All we can control are the actions we take. We can take the San Paulo and we can sail it. We'll have to take the rest as it comes. If you’re still unsure, I’ll flip you for it.”
From my pocket I pull an old, dented Spanish doubloon.
It’s my lucky coin.
Isabelle likes to plan her moves, carefully plotting each detail so that she wins. Yet I think she also enjoys the thrill of chance.
“Alright,” she says.
I hold up the doubloon, showing them the Spanish king’s face. “Heads, we break out of the brig and steal the San Paulo. Tails, we forget this mad plan.”
“Toss it,” Isabelle says.
I flip the coin.
To them, it spins through the air like a star aligning to determine our destiny. To me, I see the day my father gave it to me. I barely came up to his hip then. That day, I followed him to where he worked—the British fortress in Barbados.
As we walked, men mocked him and the color of my skin. “Finally got yourself a slave boy there, did you, Captain Higgins?”
At the fortress dock, my father's men were chipping barnacles from a ship under his command. I jabbered about how strong a ship was. Nothing could hurt something so big. Finally, he held out a small, insignificant Spanish doubloon. “What do you see?”
“Why do you have Spanish money?” I asked.
“Never mind that.” He tossed me the coin. “Break it.”
I bent fiercely but nothing happened. I bit and clawed and banged the doubloon on the dock, but I didn’t leave a scratch.
“Here,” my father said. He took a hammer from one of his soldiers. I handed back the doubloon. With the hammer, he laid one blow to the indestructible coin. It bent in half. He held it up. “Everything, even the strongest vessel, breaks with the right leverage. Especially when it doesn’t see it coming.”
With a final blow from the hammer, he knocked the coin into its original shape. He gave it to me. The lesson, and the luck, stuck to the coin in my pocket. It has always landed on—
“Heads,” Charlie says as I reveal the coin.
Isabelle nods. “Okay, I’ll help, but your plan is terrible, full of holes. We’ll need to make some serious adjustments at stage two.”
“One thing at a time. We’ve got a ship to take, but first we need to get out of this cell.”
“How are we going to do that? I don’t suppose you have a key?” Isabelle asks.
“Nope. We have you.”
I wink at her. I shift my eyes to the half-drunk pirate on the other side of the wooden prison bars.
He’s supposed to be guarding us, but instead he’s leaned back in an old chair. Slobber runs down his face; matted hair covers his head. He's nearly asleep—enjoying having the quiet ship to himself. The ship won’t be quiet for long.
Poor sap has no idea what’s coming.