Azores Islands, Portugal 1641
Captain Simon Crosse scoped the open seas off the coast of Portugal, near the Azores Islands sensing the eerie calm of the clear blue skies blending seamlessly into the flat horizon, the dead wind lufting sails, hanging impotent on massive masts. Adrenaline began to swell in his veins, his heart about to burst through his chest. He knew the signs—a wild storm was brewing. He can’t see it coming; it’s not visible. Its scent fills his flared nostrils. Fresh Spanish blood is about to give up life, limb and loot. His connection to his rage is complete here, appropriate to battle. He paced the cabin, an irate caged tiger, eyes as pinpricks. His First Mate, Wiley, close at hand, slendered himself against the far wall, hoping to remain invisible at these moments. Wiley’s at the ready to take over the helm and command of piloting the vessel as soon as the Captain lets loose his fury on deck.
And so it begins. The Captain opens a simple wooden box, appearing dull and out of place surrounded by prized, jewels, art and sculptures. As the lid raised, it spilled forth a bright light. The light emanated from a strange linen cloth glowing bright, revealing a large sapphire blue skull. Its shape was alien, elongated cranium, enormous eye sockets and no space for a mouth. The Captain’s eyes steadied on the horizon, he gently tossed the skull over to Wiley and charged out of the cabin. “All hands on deck!” the thundering words boomed from the Captain’s chest. Words that could have been heard clearly a mile off.
Wiley moved to the helm, kissed the skull gently on its forehead and secured it in a small porthole. The skull began to change color, now glowing an iridescent white, illuminating the entire cabin. Wiley began singing softly, a gentle tune he composed to honor the relic. “Ah, good juju,” Wiley says to the skull winking at as if it were his lover.
All at once, a hurricane of ruddy, burly Englishmen swarmed the deck, focused on their well-tuned assigned tasks. No further instructions needed. They operate as a single machine with a single purpose in five parts. First, find wind to fill the sails, blow if they must. Second, prepare for battle. Third, win the battle and take no prisoners. Forth, pillage loot. Fifth, return to land safely and celebrate. The objectives and necessary steps are law, and everyone knows their respective places and responsibilities. Any deviations or mishaps result in immediate death. The men appreciate the simplicity of clear rules and consequences. The Captain is keenly aware of the motivation it provides, so he is sure to never disappoint. When Deckhand Masters, with six years of tenure on the crew, lost grip of the most forward main sheet yesterday in battle, all the ship’s men gathered and cheered as the Captain personally anchored Deckhand Masters to the ocean floor—his new permanent home.
Only a few have ever earned forgiveness from the Captain. Apart from the Captain’s beloved First Mate, two others also hold much distinction and even love from the Captain. The ship’s chaplain is the Captain’s closest confidant, and he fashions funeral wreaths of seaweed, which he blesses and keeps at the ready for funerals at sea. Not one shipman goes unacknowledged by the chaplain when he passes on to meet his maker, no matter the manner in which he meets his demise. He has a small dog named Cat he keeps in a bird cage. He feeds Cat mostly birdseed and small licks of honey, which Cat does enjoy.
The ship’s scribe is the other. She is the only woman on the ship and happens to be the Captain’s daughter. She’s obsessive with detail and stores memories like libraries, all categorically organized in her brain, easy to access and use however best benefits her. She documents every name of every shipman, their battles fought and crosses them out with a definitive date marked “END” as soon as they are no more. She also serves as a war correspondent, documenting every story of every battle just as she sees it. She keeps a clean count of the death toll on both sides and accounts for loot acquired and estimates loss. As soon as the sounds of battle cry out in the air, she stealthfully puts herself in the midst of the chaos, yet cunningly out-of-view, recording all she sees. Her bunk is cluttered with carefully bound ledgers, which she stitched by hand every one.
Meanwhile, on deck, the men staring at the still tell-tails, bow their heads and pray for wind, and so it appears. Immediately, magically, gusts of wind conjure from nowhere to fill the heavy sails in the hot flat sea. Then, it appeared. Drifting slowly out in the distance, paralyzed by the calm that formerly afflicted the pirate’s ship, a Spanish galleon came into view. It seemed as a toy ship floating aimlessly in the hot mid-day sun. The Captain sees it first, for he had smelled it long before it reached a range of visibility. He straightens his spine, elongating his already towering torso, and he points directly at the spot of the galleon with a long crooked finger. He need not say a word. All the shipmen notice and know exactly what to do. They tack directly into their magical wind, with their target in sight, prepared to conquer, pillage and destroy. The men, in unison, follow the Captain’s orders by effortless instinct. He is a man of few words, and that works well for everyone.
Captain Simon’s power in leadership is not founded on fear alone, though fear doesn’t hurt. He’s a Pied Piper. He leads and others follow as naturally as breath, to victory and even to death if that were fate’s command. It helps that error as foreign to him as losing. He never lies. He never cheats. He is always true to his word. Yes, certainly, he’s a murderous pirate, but he goes about his business honorably.
The Captain climbs up on the bow sprit, balancing effortlessly on the wooden plank. He is as tall and slender as a cypress, agile with flawless dexterity more than brute strength driven by a quick-witted, cunning mind, always six steps ahead of even his most worthy foes. Still, his face, always clean-shaven, is a living map of scars bearing a history that could tell tales filling a million adventure books. His snake-like eyes peer through thin eyelids slightly hidden by wisps of longish black hair, pulled back in pale, clean cloths. He notices that his ship is approaching its target much quicker than he anticipated. The supernatural wind powering its sails is unusually strong today. He feels omnipotent. He glares at the Spanish galleon growing larger before his eyes as his ship approaches faster and faster still, the sharp hull creating little wake as a razor cutting through flat water.
At once, the port-side’s 19 cannons blasted towards the galleon, and the Captain grabs a deckhand with both slender, powerful hands upon his baggy shirt, ordering him to the crow’s nest atop the mast, handing him a telescope. The deckhand scurries to the top like a ravenous squirrel. “Mate, what do you see up there?” the Captain demands.
“I see crows, Sir,” the mate responds obediently.
“What?” the Captain barks back, assuming this will be the very last word the deckhand will ever hear. He prepares to catapult himself to the top of the mast to fling the deckhand outward, into a freefall to the deadly waters so far below. The only punishment allowed for a man who would utter such a daringly obtuse smart-ass response. But, when the Captain’s gaze meets the gaze of the deckhand, there, indeed, are many small crows flitting about. Large, adult crows were actually kept caged in the crow’s nest—a lookout point atop the tallest mast on the ship, fitted with a sturdy basket. These crows were kept caged there, and care was provided by the mate assigned to that spot. This assignment was either out of punishment as inhabitants are prone to experiencing severe seasickness at that altitude on even the most calm waters. Or, it was just an assigned position, merely handed off to fulfill a need. As for the caged crows, they serve a very useful purpose. When a sailor wants to find land quickly, he releases a crow and follows its navigation to the nearest land “as the crow flies.” Apparently, these particular crows were kept caged so long and cared for so well, they bred. As for the small crows—their offspring–they are small enough that they can fly through the cage bars but not yet old enough to have confidence enough to leave their parents and seek land.
“Looks like they nested up here, Sir. What do you want me to do with them?” the deckhand asks genuinely.
“Sod the crows! Scope the galleon; what do you see? How many men are on deck?” the Captain orders.
“Maybe a hundred fifty or so,” replies the deckhand.
“What are they doing? Are they preparing to return fire?” asks the Captain.
“No, Sir. They are scurrying like mice. They look frightened. Confused,” said the deckhand.
“Perfect. That’s your spot, mate. Do not abandon your post,” orders the Captain. “Watch and learn.”
The Captain draws his saber and prepares to lead his crew onto the enemy vessel. The Captain’s ship is nearly on top of the Spanish galleon at this point. “I smell Spanish blood and riches already,” says the Captain, the sign for the crew to board and pillage the enemy vessel. And so they did it.
Worthy opponents in skill, yet the Spaniards appeared shocked and stunned by the attack as if they didn’t see this giant pirate ship approach theirs with cannons blaring at them, blasting these cavernous holes in their ship. The Captain’s sharp eyes beam through a path between sordid struggling bodies and flailing weapons, and his human hunt begins. He’s seeking out the Spanish galleon’s captain. This is the sole mission of his battle—extinguishing life of rival captains he believes to be his tree of life, his path to immortality. The loot is just candy. Elegantly, the Captain wades through the ensuing chaos, a deadly and unfamiliar labyrinth. Then, on the aft deck he sees her, ordering a small crew. Her. The Spanish Captain is a woman. Small, beautiful and powerful. He’s conflicted. He stops.
He positions his thin frame behind a mast, knowing any pause to be a grave error in battle. Then, in one seemingly choreographed move, Captain Simon takes the Spanish Captain into his arms, abandons his saber to his side, gripping his stiletto and presses it firmly against her jugular. Her loyal crew falls back pained and obedient to the compromising circumstances, powerless. Captain Simon is beyond aroused. He has captured a prize. A powerful, beautiful prize, perhaps under other circumstances, she would be his equal and a potential conquest of another kind. His head swimming with unfamiliar confusion, he contemplates breaking one of his own laws: taking a prisoner. He presses his body harder against hers. This prize would be far more fulfilling in captivity than dead, or a curse. No, not “or.” He knows it would be both.
On the pirate ship, the deckhand in the crow’s nest has stopped watching the battle below and turned his attention upwards. He is watching the sky turn an angry. From a hot, dead calm, swirling winds chop up the water and begin tossing the ship. He’s nauseous, but his sickness is the least of his concerns. Hovering just over head, a cloud as black as night hangs motionless. Ominous, it waits not more than a second or two before dropping in altitude, as a black ceiling strobed with lightening, covering the two ships. Hot, thick bullets of rain pounding furiously down, stinging skin and blinding sight with booming thunder shaking even the most steady bones. Just as suddenly, the winds pick up and begin tossing both of the giant ships around like playthings. The deckhand has been ordered to his position. He dare not move. He knows he will die and soon. At least if he keeps his post he will die with honor in the eyes of God. He grips tightly, rain water gathered to his waist. He prays.
Captain Simon’s crew aboard the Spanish galleon are beginning to load the loot onto the pirate ship, altering not one movement in the midst of the storm. It matters not. The mission remains the same. The two Captains entwined together like serpent lovers watch. The Spanish Captain looks up at her conqueror and says, “Please, tell me one thing. Where are they taking it all?”
Captain Simon, has become physical aroused in this position with his conquest, pushes even deeper into her, sinking his body into her healthy, plump skin as if to become one, then answers, “I’m afraid I don’t understand your question, Ma’am. They are taking it to my ship, of course.” He breathes heavily into her ear, straining to resist his carnal instincts.
“What ship? You and your men, you came from the sky, out from the sky! Where is your ship?” she pleaded.
He looked over towards his ship and watched his men load the treasure onboard; then he noticed it. She was right. Onboard of what? There was no ship there to be seen! Yet, his men continue to walk on and off where he knew his ship to be. Rain was pouring down, visibility was impaired, but the ship was most definitely not there, or rather, invisible.
As the storm brewed, the waves, wind and rain wreaked merciless havoc on the vessels, beating up the decks, filling the cabins with water and tearing down the masts, splintering them like frail sticks—consuming countless lives in moments. The deckhand in the crow’s nest hangs on tightly as his small bucket crashes down into the cold unforgiving waters, inviting him to his damp grave. Both ships toss furiously and take in more water until they both capsize. First Mate Wiley maintained his steady position at the helm and wept as the waves took the glowing alien relic and returned it to the bosom of the sea.
Captain Simon blinked his eyes disbelieving the possibility of an invisible ship. He then saw his ship suddenly come into view. “Look!” He whispers in her ear, “There it is. You see, now? My ship. Isn’t she beautiful?”
A single wave, as grand as Gibraltar, grabbed both ships as a mighty hand, forcing the vessels down along with all the lives, history and treasures they held to the bottom of an unforgiving sea.