Blood and Bones: Caribbean 1645, by Jim Breyfogle

In a desperate gamble, John Brennan, a sorcerer of the high seas, has joined up with the notorious Captain Bones, pirate scourge of the Caribbean, all for the sake of one priceless prize transported aboard a Spanish ship guarded by gun and magic!

John Brennan had faced death many times, but never so early in the morning. Fortunately it was not his death, but a pirate’s. The surf lolled the body at his feet. It was a patchwork man, sun-browned on his face and hands, white where his clothes had been torn away, and pink where fish had nibbled his flesh. John could little ignore the fact that this had been done not by the man’s enemies, but by his friends.

John drew his spell of invisibility more tightly around him. The sand squeaked under his feet as he strode forward. He passed the remnants of a great bonfire; several men lay baking in the sun, surrounded by empty bottles, still unconscious from last night’s revelry.

Ahead, canvas stretched high between palm trees. He had a proposition to make, and that seemed the most likely place to find Captain Bones. The crew of the Blood ‘n Bones lounged among the trees, surrounded by the tools of their trade: knives, guns, rum, gold, captive women, and more rum.

The heat didn’t seem to bother Captain Bones. He sat under the canvas, a dozen tankards on the table before him. A half-dozen women huddled against him, staring at a knife driven through a golden bracelet into the tabletop.

Bones had coarse black hair—long and wild, growing from both scalp and chin. Veins crossed his pocked and ruddy cheeks like rivers on a map. His eyes were dark beneath bushy brows. A silver skull earring, its eyes glowing red, dangled from one ear. He wore his reputation like a second skin.

Bones pulled the knife from the table. The women leaned forward, hands twitching. Before any could move, he drove the knife back through the bracelet. The women sank back with sounds of disappointment.

John dropped his invisibility spell. The women shrieked at his appearance, but Bones merely curled his lip.

“Who are you, and why shouldn’t I kill you?” Bones said, pulling out the knife and waving it at John. One of the women snatched the bracelet with a cry of triumph. Bones gave her a sour look, dug another bracelet from his pocket, flipped it onto the table and drove the knife through it into the table again.

“I’m John Brennan,” John said, “and you don’t profit from my death.” He added, “Not the way you could from my life.”

“Heh,” Bones snorted, unimpressed by the introduction. “A bold mage, if that be true, but John Brennan be in Havana waiting on the unlikely event of the Admiralty deciding to pay his ransom.”

Sweat dripped down the tankards on the table like it did down John’s face. “I escaped.”

“Well, me Lad, that be a good thing. For I’ll tell you true, His Majesty’s Royal Navy isn’t fair to buy your freedom.”

John nodded. It did no good to deny it. Being captured left a black mark on anybody’s record.

“So what brings you to my shore? I’ve already a mage, and two mages be ask’n for trouble.”

John licked his lips, which had become suddenly dry. “While in Havana,” he said, “I learned when the Princeptia sails.”

Bones froze. “The last galleon for Spain this season,” he said.

“And laden with treasure.”

“Tell me of this treasure,” Bones said.

“More gold than usual, and more coined than not. There was talk of South American emeralds, some old Inca gold to satisfy the King’s curiosity, and both coined silver and ingots. But the prize,” John went on, “is the governor’s gift.”

“And what be that?”

“Governor Mendoza swore when he was assigned to Havana that he would donate a statue to the shrine of Santa Marina of the Waters if he should return safely. It so happens he is returning to Spain on the Princeptia.”

“It be my recollection the new governor arrived in the spring with the new garrison,” Bones said.

“He did, but Mendoza stayed the summer to smooth the change. Now he takes his family home, and with them a statue to fulfill his vow.”

Bones brushed away his words with a gesture that knocked half the tankards from the table. “I’ve no use for grey rock, no matter how prettily carved.”

“This isn’t stone,” said John. “It’s gold: the Holy Saint made of gold and garbed in sea green emeralds. She stands this tall.” He lifted his right hand to shoulder height.

A slow smile cracked Bones’ beard. “Aye, that be a bonnie lass! What did you have in mind for this information?”

“The same as you, I suspect,” said John.

Bones laughed, though his eyes held no humor. The little skull earring joined him in a high, evil titter. “Aye, that be a rousing idea, but the Princeptia be no soft mark. She’ll have escorts and a Mage of the Seville Academy. My Hawk has fair, sharp talons, but not that sharp.”

John nodded. Few who sailed the Spanish Main hadn’t heard of David Hawk, the pirate mage of the Blood ‘n Bones. “With my help, it could be done.”

“Perhaps. ‘Tis said you had promise, before you were captured.” Bones drew the knife from the table, tapping it against his chin. A woman snatched for the bracelet. The knife flashed back down, pinning her hand to the wood. She shrieked.

Bones yanked the knife out, and she jerked her hand away, staring in horror.

“Take your crying elsewhere,” ordered Bones. All the women left, hurriedly and without comment. The wounded woman sobbed and held her hand close, so it stained her bodice with blood as she fled. “And the escorts?”

“The Princeptia sails with two,” John said. “But they will overnight at a certain river mouth to take fresh water, and the escorts will stand offshore to protect her from – adventurers.”

“A sound method,” growled Bones.

“Yes, but if we get there ahead of them we can anchor upriver. The escorts will be guarding the mouth of the bay, and we’ll already be inside. Let the current take us and we can approach in the night.”

Bones threw back his head and laughed, his earring joining in. “By the fates that be a bold plan!” He sobered. “But that leaves us bottled up in the river mouth.”

“With a fast ship, two mages, some valuable hostages, and enough gold for a man to take foolish risks.”

Bones laughed again. “I like you, lad; you’ve the right of it.” He leaned forward, “But I’ve a fancy to spend the swag I take. Fetch me my Hawk; I’d like to hear what he says of this, and of you.”

While he had heard of David Hawk, John had never seen the notorious pirate. Once a student at Oxford’s Mageholm College, Hawk had been assigned to the Royal Navy as a ship’s mage. He never reported for duty, instead slipping away to reappear in the Caribbean as one of the strongest renegade mages in the New World. The Navy dearly wished his capture.

John passed among the crew as he looked for Hawk. This was a test, a test of his courage among hard men who lived their lives desperately, caring little for anything, whether life or property, work of man or work of God. A man caressed a lizard, rubbing its head like one would a dog. Like a dog, the lizard wore a collar and a long steel chain.

They looked a tough lot: rough seaman’s clothes, knives and guns, scars and missing limbs, gold jewelry, silks and fine brocades. Amongst their fashion fancies John saw charms and amulets, no doubt taken from victims they had failed to protect.

Finally, he came to a man leaning over a boiling pot, inhaling the fumes and muttering; either to himself or the dissected lizard on the board behind him.

Red, orange, and gold flames leaked from the corner of his left eye to course down his cheek and flared across his jaw. The tattoo was so vivid his face looked as though it burned when he moved. John had found David Hawk.

Hawk’s left eye was black; it shone, slightly iridescent, when light hit it. It was, John realized, a black pearl of enormous size. There couldn’t be two such pearls in the world.

When he smiled a cruel looking smile, runes carved into his teeth—part of some enchantment, surely—glittered with gold.

Hawk sniffed the air. “There is something of the academy about you.” He sniffed again, like a dog after a meal. “And the pallor of dungeons is on your skin. But there is fire in your eyes. You want something badly.”

John did not answer. Hawk laughed at his silence. “Yes, be careful, lest I pluck the thoughts from your brain.”

“Captain Bones wants to speak with you,” John said.

“Does he now?” Hawk waved his hand over the lizard, disturbing a number of flies at their lunch. “I’m not finished here. Well, I can do it again.” He grinned, and John knew it didn’t matter to Hawk whether he dissected a lizard or a man. “Maybe I should find myself a lady like some of the lads, eh? Be better than a lizard.”

 

John waited, sweating in the shade of a palm tree while Bones and Hawk argued about the plan. It was no small thing to attack a galleon, but as he had pointed out, the rewards were great.

Finally, Bones’ voice rang out over the sand. “Ready the ship, lads! We’re going after the greatest prize since Piet Hein took the plate fleet in ’28!” He beckoned John over. “The crew be signed already, but you still be needing to put your name to the roll.

“Your cut be four shares,” Bones continued. “That be the same as Hawk’s. You bring the information, but he be more experienced.”

John glanced at Hawk, who frowned. “I want one thing off the top,” John said. “I bring not just the date and route of the Princeptia’s sailing, but the plan to take her.”

Bones narrowed his eyes. “What be you wanting?”

“I want the governor’s bonnie lass.”

“That lass—it be worth more than its weight in gold,” Bones said.

“Indeed she is.”

“I’d more like give you the governor’s life,” said Bones.  The two locked eyes, but John didn’t look away. Bones shrugged. “So be it, but it be costing you a full share. Three shares and the lass.”

John nodded agreement.

“There be the Articles,” said Bones, pointing to a sheet of parchment on the table. “If you be intending to sail with us you’d fair be signing.”

John expected this, but hesitated. His signature could be used against him should they be caught. He couldn’t even claim duress, for nobody forced a mage. Men swung for signing articles like this.

Prizes enough for a man to take foolish risks, he thought, lifting the quill and signing under the watchful gaze of Captain Bones and his sharp-taloned Hawk.

 

The crew hurried to clear the deck so they could sail with the evening tide. John wanted to speak with the sailing master before going to his cabin in the forecastle but stopped to watch a man drink the dregs from every rum bottle he gathered before pitching it overboard.

Knowing better than to comment, John climbed onto the quarterdeck. The first thing he saw was two concentric circles inscribed with runes; Hawk’s circle of power. He automatically took a step closer.

“I’d stay away from that, mate,” said the sailing master in a low voice. “He’ll be covering it now there’s another mage aboard, but he won’t fancy your looking before then.”

John stopped. Of course, he wanted to know how the pirate mage constructed his fighting platform, but mages were always jealous of their secrets. The circles amplified their power and served as protection. Knowing the runes allowed one to know the circle’s weaknesses.

John walked slowly to the wheel, his gaze trailing behind him. The concentric circles were burned into the deck, but the runes between them had been filled with silver. Every mage chooses patterns to link the runes, and it looked like Hawk used Celtic knots.

“You’ve signed up for trouble, me lad,” said the sailing master. He was so battered it was impossible to tell whether he was young or old. A slice of his scalp and one ear had been cut away, leaving him with long hair on one side of his head, which he had tied back, and mottled scars across the other.  “Sailing with pirates be worse than getting captured. The noose be waiting for you on London quay.” He seemed remarkably cheerful saying it.

“Few on this ship will hang,” said John. “Drink and the devil will have them first.”

“Aye, true enough, and both already be aboard. I be the sailing master, name o’ Dead Reckoning, but you can call me Dead. The tale be told you spent eight months in a Spanish jail.”

John shuddered, thinking of the long months in Havana. He remembered cold stone and being questioned by mages using techniques learned from the Inquisition: leather, water, fire, and stone. In spite of the sun, the darkness of those dungeons seemed very close.

“I saw the prison,” Dead said. “From the outside,” he added. “But was told they kept the mages elsewhere.”

“Yes, beneath the Castillo de la Real Fuerza.

Dead let out a brutal bark of laughter. “In the governor’s basement! I think more highly of the gent knowing he slept with a dungeon full of angry mages below. Takes some courage that does.”

“It doesn’t take courage, for Mendoza has none,” John said. “All it takes is stone. Stone protects from magic; that’s one reason castles are stone. A mage can break through anything but stone and a stronger mage’s circle.”

“Aye, seen Mr. Hawk battle a few times.” Dead nodded toward the circle.

After a few moments of silence, Dead said, “Never a mage escaped Havana before. O’Livier died there, and DeGruen, and One Hand Dick. And Renington. He had power, old Renington did, and he died there.”

“DeGruen is still alive,” said John automatically. “Mad, though.” He thought of being herded up to protect the governor’s beautiful daughter from attack by West African magic wielded by resentful slaves. He had been told that if she died, he died, and when he was successful, he was returned to the deep dungeons to brood and plot without even a candle as gratitude. After that glorious interlude, the cold and dark had been even worse. “A lot of madness there,” he said, trying to shake the shadow from his memory.

“Aye,” said Dead quietly, bringing him back to the present. “Here be madness too.”

David Hawk climbed onto the quarterdeck, flaming tattoo leaping as he growled like a bear. “Stand away from my circle,” he said to John, putting himself between John and the circle. He shook his fist—a fist that sparkled with power.

John took a step back, raised his own hands. “I’m not near your circle.”

Hawk sneered, “Already seen it?”

“No, you can ask Dead. He took care to keep me away.”

“I should kill you now,” said Hawk. “And damned be you and your plan.”

John called his magic; he could feel it tingle. “You’ll need me,” he said. “You can’t take a galleon mage by yourself.”

“How reassuring, since you were captured by the Spanish in the first place.” Hawk snarled, showing the runes on his teeth.

Poised to fight, John waited for Hawk to accept the truth. Only the strongest, best trained and most experienced mages were assigned to the treasure galleons. At last Hawk lowered his hands and muttered, “You did escape. Nobody’s done that before. I’ve always wanted the spell books of a Seville-trained mage. And I need something to replace the lizard.” He fixed a gaze on John, his pearl eye shimmering. “You’ll inscribe your circle on the fo’c’sle deck.”

As far from Hawk as possible. “That’s wise,” John said. Never taking his eyes off Hawk, he crossed the quarterdeck and climbed down to the main. He had not gotten the chance to talk to Dead about their course, but he figured best do that away from Hawk and his circle.

John ducked his head as he entered the forecastle cabin. It stank of mold and rum, and, if it wasn’t his imagination, treachery, and death. Refuse piled along the bulkheads. A dull hazy light battled its way through a porthole encrusted with salt and grime.

Not thinking, he straightened and banged his head on the underside of the deck. Raucous laughter drifted down. “Watch yer head, mate.” Several hard thumps next to his ear made him wince.

John ran his hand across the planking, feeling it vibrate from the men’s stomping. It felt like he could just reach up and grab their feet. He dropped his hand. He would go above to scribe his own circle once they left.

He struggled to open the porthole and was rewarded with a fresh breeze and view of the beach. There, as if he needed another reminder not to trust these pirates, wallowed the patchwork man, alone, forgotten, and very dead.

 

As the Blood ‘n Bones neared her destination two days later, John inscribed the last rune in his circle and stood to inspect it. A good job, he decided. The circles were precise, the runes clear. The ring of fire it generated should be without weakening wrinkles. He had a good combination of runes to augment his power, bolster defense, and aid in summoning.

All that remained was to wait. As they lay at anchor, tales of the treasure raced around the ship, growing larger with each telling. John half expected to hear of the Princeptia’s sails of gold and jeweled keel. Through long days the men claimed and reclaimed their shares, reveled in Spanish blood yet unshed, gambled their un-won loot, argued, and fought. Bones spoke of the “governor’s bonnie lass” wistfully and frowned at John as if regretting giving her away. When the Princeptia finally anchored downstream, everybody was more than ready for a fight.

 

The moon shone, making the water shimmer and brightening the night. It was inconceivable that they wouldn’t be spotted as they came downriver. The men grumbled and argued, fearing chance, God, and the Spanish.

“Silence!” ordered Bones, his whisper nearly a shout. “Next man as makes a noise will be making his last.”

John moved down the starboard side, murmuring amongst the guns. So quietly none could hear, he cast a spell of silence on them. Hawk did the same to the port guns.

They needed to keep the Princeptia’s escorts ignorant. They would be undone if they sailed to her rescue.

When John came to the forecastle, he climbed the stairs and stepped into his runic circle. On the quarterdeck Hawk did likewise, and John could see Hawk’s circle glittering faintly, as though with starlight, ready to ignite.

Dead Reckoning stood at the wheel, waiting. The crew manned every gun. As if the devil had reached out to help them, a cloud crossed over the moon, the surface of the water going black.

“Slip the anchor,” Bones ordered.

They drifted downstream. The river opened up, and John saw the Princeptia at anchor, lights at bow and stern. There was no sign of the escorts; they were outside the bay, screened by palm trees. The Spanish placed far too much confidence in their own secrecy.

Dead turned the wheel, and Blood ‘n Bones turned slightly to bring her near the galleon. The crews of the port cannon abandoned their guns to become the boarding party. Cutlasses and pistols ready, they waited.

John’s heart pounded. This was stealth and murder and robbery. A man must love or hate desperately to justify this.

Each gunner knew his target, and a difficult mark it was – the mage platform. One by one, as the Blood ‘n Bones slid alongside the Princeptia, the cannons fired. John allowed himself a smile of satisfaction at the muffled retorts.

Grappling hooks arced up, snaring the Princeptia’s rail. Pirate marksmen kept the Spanish from cutting free, and the ships shuddered as they banged together. Soon they were bound, swinging in the current, but the Princeptia’s anchor held.

Bones led the pirates with a shout over the rail and fell on anybody he found. A few sailors pled for mercy but found none. The pirates killed everybody whether they fought or not. Blood showered the deck.

¡Fuego!” A deep voice boomed above the confusion, and a sheet of flame leapt from the shadows under the aft cabin. The volley tore into the pirates, and they joined the screaming.

¡Adelante!” A line of Spanish marines stepped into the lantern light. A robed figure, the galleon’s mage, dashed up the stairs to the quarterdeck.

Before John could react, flames leapt from the Spanish circle, red and tinged with gold. Power crackled across the decks, so much that he could feel it on the bow of the Blood ‘n Bones. “Del Sol,” he said, recognizing the famous red and gold fire. Now he understood why the Spanish weren’t worried about lights.

Hawk ignited his own circle of black fire rimmed in purple, and the air shimmered between the two mages. He opened a magical gate, and a dozen hawks flew out.

Del Sol laughed.

“At ‘em, lads!” Bones shouted, and the pirates attacked the marines. The marine’s line collapsed as the two groups hacked and grappled with each other.

John ignited his circle of blue and silver flames and joined Hawk’s attack. The two hammered Del Sol’s circle, and it flexed. John could see the mage sway, but the circle held. Del Sol flung out his hands and John felt his magic recoil.

John stopped his attack and began a new spell. Sweat dripped down his face as he struggled with the exacting formula.

Del Sol taunted Hawk over the shouts and screams of the pirates and marines. “¿Llamaste a los alcones? Me decepcionas. Ninguna creatura podría romper mi círculo.” It seemed Del Sol was right, for Hawk’s hawks could not break his circle.

John drew power, so much power his flesh tingled and light popped before his eyes. He reached out, magically groping inside the Princeptia’s aft cabin, tore a gate in reality and beckoned, then pulled and dragged and forced his summoning to completion.

There was a lull in spite of the vicious fighting raging across the Princeptia’s deck. Del Sol casually immolated Hawk’s hawks while watching John curiously.

Nothing happened.

Lo que fuera que intentaste, falló” said Del Sol.

John’s stomach quivered. Had he truly failed? That summoning was his best and only hope.

Del Sol raised his arms, and red flames leapt up and began to twist above his head then settled back down, leaving a swirling disc of fire. The flames pulsed brighter and brighter then roared out to lash Hawk’s black fire at Del Sol’s gesture. The black fire disappeared, leaving wisps of smoke drifting up from the runes. Hawk fell to his knees.

Hawk’s voice carried over the ship, “Damn you, Brennan, for bringing us here.”

The red fire leapt again, forming another disc. Del Sol turned toward John. The burning disc pulsed, and Del Sol dashed it into John’s circle.

Noise filled John’s ears as his blue fire spun, flickered, and vanished for good. He felt all the energy drain from him as the circle disappeared, and he swayed like a drunk.

The Spanish marines raised a cheer.

Ahora para borrar la chusma,” said Del Sol.

The pirates faltered, changing their aim from the marines to Del Sol. Red sparks showered around him, but not even a cannon could break a mage’s circle.

John tried to raise his circle. He couldn’t beat Del Sol, but maybe he could protect the pirates. Or delay their deaths. A musket ball struck the rail before him, sending splinters flying. He dropped to the deck.

Del Sol glimmered across the decks, and John stopped to throw up a shield, a weak one, but enough to turn aside Del Sol’s attack. Just like Hawk’s lizard, John thought, pinned to a board with our guts hanging out.

There came the sound of tearing wood.

Del Sol looked down, eyes and mouth wide. He jumped aside as something tore a section of the deck into the cabin below. Claws, red from reflected fire, clamped onto the deck, and a demon hoisted itself into the circle. Del Sol shrank back as the creature towered over him. All muscle, fangs, and claws, the demon pushed against Del Sol’s circle; when it couldn’t get out, it turned on the mage.

It shrugged off Del Sol’s attacks, grabbing him with both claws. Its claws sank through robes and flesh; blood spurted, and the mage screamed. The demon tore him asunder. The screams and red fire died.

Fighting ceased on the main deck. All eyes turned to the demon. It dropped bloody chunks of mage and stepped out of the circle. Marines and pirates scrambled to get away, no longer interested in fighting.

“Are you mad?” Hawk screamed at John. “Nobody can control that beast!”

“Rewards enough for a man to take foolish risks!” John shouted back. He took a deep breath and raised his circle.

The demon roared and leapt from the quarterdeck. Men shrieked, running in all directions, terrified of the thing falling toward them.

John opened a gate in the main deck. Unable to avoid it, the demon fell through. John slammed it shut, wiped the sweat from his face. “Easier than getting it here.”

He ignored Hawk’s incredulous expression and began to dismantle any enchantments that remained aboard the Princeptia.

 

“Well fought, lads,” said Bones. “My guts fair turned to water for a second there.” His skull earring laughed shrilly. He paced the deck, prodding prostrate Spanish sailors with his boot. More than one prayed for mercy from both God and Bones. “Put them to the sword,” said Bones.

“There are some who can be ransomed,” said John.

Bones frowned. “Who? Oh, aye, the governor.”

“And his family,” said John.

“Spare the passengers, kill the rest,” said Bones. “And let’s be off to divide this swag. I’m fair to see this bonnie haul.”

They cut the Blood ‘n Bones free and raised the Princeptia’s anchor. Hawk had charge of her as she sailed out of the bay; lights lit, and charted a course east, she signaled to the escorts they should follow to seaward. It was a simple trap that depended on the darkness and the escorts’ hasty obedience. But who, the pirates reasoned, would refuse orders they thought given by Spain’s foremost mage?

Still aboard the Blood ‘n Bones, John heard the escorts tear out their hulls on the shallow reefs. “Here’s to the admirable discipline of the Spanish Navy!” he shouted, and the pirates cheered their escape.

 

By afternoon the Blood ‘n Bones joined the Princeptia in another hidden anchorage. Much of the treasure had already been piled on the beach.

The crew sweated, smiling as they cursed the weight, knowing it meant wealth. They threw crates, bales, and barrels into a growing mound of treasure. John and Bones joined Hawk to watch the unloading. Bones found a bag of emeralds and sat holding it as a burly gunner broke open the chests and tipped the riches on the sand.

The next to last boat beached, and six men struggled to unload a large crate. It was larger than the chests of silver coin, almost as tall as a man, and clearly very heavy. Bones leaned forward.

“I fair be wanting to see that,” he said, his expression avaricious. “No doubt that be the governor’s bonnie lass.”

The last boat beached, and the men drove the captives ahead of them. John knew Felipe de Vasto Mendoza well, but if the governor recognized John, he pretended otherwise. Mendoza stumbled in the sand. His face was red from effort, anger, and sun, but he held his tongue as a crewman shoved him before Bones.

His wife looked ready to faint. The crew took special delight in taunting her. Wearing a fine gown as though meeting special guests, their daughter followed. Her knuckles showed white on her parasol, but she held her chin high and ignored the taunting pirates. She glanced around, as if looking for something she had lost amidst the plunder.

Hawk’s tattoo flared as he grinned.

Mendoza opened his mouth to speak, but Bones scowled so ferociously he closed it again. “Open the crate, lads.” The bag of emeralds slid, unheeded, off his lap.

Two men had the crate open in short order, one side falling onto the sand. Santa Marina stood in the shade of a sailor, her skin burnished gold, her robe a sea of emeralds, a jeweled Bible in one hand and a cross in the other. The sailor stepped aside so the sun struck her and she blazed with light, setting the entire crate aglow. Nobody spoke, and the only movement came from men falling to their knees and crossing themselves in reverence.

“Now that be a prize,” said Bones, his voice full of wonder and desire. “John, me boy, claim your prize.” He drew his cutlass and laid it on his lap.

Hawk stepped away from the two, hands held loosely, staring at John.

“Even you would not desecrate the Holy Saint,” said Mendoza in heavily accented English.

John did not move. He studied Bones and Hawk, noted their readiness. It was against the Articles to kill a crewmember while on a cruise, but once the treasure was divided the cruise was over.

“Claim her, lad. I’d not have any say I don’t keep my word.” Bones turned the cutlass over idly. Sun gleamed off the blade. With his other hand Bones, drew a pistol and rested it on one knee pointed loosely at John.

Hawk flexed his fingers, not blinking.

Still John did not move.

“I’m not a patient man,” said Bones. “And I don’t really care if I keep me word. But I’d as soon you claimed her before you die, just to keep things proper.” As Bones spoke, sparks jumped between Hawk’s fingers, and the pirate mage smiled, showing the glowing runes in his teeth.

John took two steps forward, and beckoned. Mendoza’s daughter stepped forward to take his hand.

“Your plan worked, Eilena,” he said. He pulled her close and kissed her before Bones and Hawk, before the crew, before her mother and her bastard father whose payment for saving her life had been to throw John into a deeper cell out of fear of his magic.

Mendoza swore, “¡Perfidia! ¡Estoy arruinado por mi propio – no, no por mi sangre! Tú eres—”

“¡Cállese!” said John. “Tenía parte en crear todo eso con su crueldad y su desagradecimiento.” He switched to English and repeated himself to underline Mendoza’s plight, “You had a part in this with your cruelty and ingratitude. And you can still make it worse.” He picked up a rum jug and jerked his head back, drawing Mendoza’s attention to the pirates around him. “Drink and shut up.”

Mendoza glared, but took the rum and drank vigorously.

Eilena drew a pistol, (only she and God knew how she kept it hidden) smiled at John, and together they confronted Bones.

Bones sat, stupefied. Hawk hid his reaction well, but sparks still danced on his fingers, and he leaned forward onto the balls of his feet.

“I have what I wanted,” John said. “Santa Marina is yours.”

Bones suddenly laughed. “You stole the bracelet from beneath the Spanish dagger!” His earring laughed as he reached down into the bag of emeralds and drew out one the size of his fist. Still laughing, he tossed it to John, who caught it. “Well played!”

The smile slid from Hawk’s face, and the sparks died on his fingers. He spat in the sand.

“You be too clever to have around, Mr. Brennan,” Bones said. He called out to the sailing master, “Dead, load a chest of gold into the jolly boat. And don’t skimp—three full shares. Make Mr. Brennan a rich man.” To John, he added, “We’re quits, Mr. Brennan, and I’m fair hoping that you’re never tasked with hunting me.”

John shrugged. “I doubt the Admiralty will have me back after sailing with pirates.”

“Their loss, it be.” Bones returned to dividing the treasure, the silver skull in his ear chuckling with him, a high, gleeful sound, like jewels shaken in a tiny cup. “Their loss, it be.”

Jim Breyfogle currently resides in Pennsylvania. When he isn’t writing he is gathering an army of terra-cotta warriors with which to aggravate his English Mastiff—thus far, the dog still wins.