Excerpt from “The Devil’s Fire”: The Spanish Galleon

Nathan didn’t know how he had survived the battle thus far, but he suspected that luck was largely a factor.

As he scaled the side of the galleon, he glanced up and saw One-Eyed Henry and Gregory climbing over the top of the bulwark. Gregory halted in place and glanced down at Nathan, his face ghostly pale. Whatever he had glimpsed on the other side of that bulwark mortified him.

Nathan looked down, risking dizziness, and saw Griffith and Livingston making their way up the hull below him. The sight of his captain so eager to engage in battle filled his heart with a powerful urge to press on. He summoned all of his energy and hauled himself upward, and he did not stop climbing until he reached a gunport.

Gregory lingered just below the bulwark to the left of the gunport, clinging to the side. Nathan glanced at his friend as he came alongside him, but Gregory’s face was pressed against the hull, his lips moving with no words emerging. “Gregory?” Nathan said, freeing one hand just long enough to grasp his friend’s shoulder. Gregory jerked away and nearly fell. Nathan shook his head and continued on. He reached through the gunport and sunk his cutlass into the deck like a grapple. He squeezed through the slim wedge between the cannon and the opening.

A blanket of sparkling shards littered the deck, scattered like stars across an inverted night’s sky. Dozens of pirates had fallen and were clutching their sliced feet while cursing and moaning. Rolling around on the deck made matters worse, and their hips and legs were bleeding as well. The Spaniards, who all wore boots, were moving about with ease and thrusting their blades into wounded pirates.

One of the Jamaicans stepped on a particularly jagged shard and started hopping about and yelping. He slipped in a puddle of blood and collapsed onto his belly. He lifted up with a face full of glass, carved beyond recognition, and shrieked at the heavens.

Nathan was frozen in terror. There was no way he could traverse that deck, unless some unlucky Spaniard died near enough for him to steal a pair of shiny boots. No wonder Gregory was petrified.

All was not lost, however, since One-Eyed Henry was in fact wearing boots. It was not normal for him to do so, and Nathan guessed that he had adorned them just before the battle, expecting such a tactic. Nice of him to warn us, Nathan thought while grinding his teeth.

Henry sliced a Spaniard from behind, placed his heel on the man’s back, shoved him to the ground, and slid his body forward. When he realized what Henry was up to, Nathan slid back out of the gunport and punched Gregory’s shoulder. “Get up here, you coward!”

“Too much glass,” Gregory muttered.

“I think Henry’s solved that problem,” Nathan said.

“How’d he do that?”

“Come up and see.”

Nathan crawled back through the gunport and stood, for the first time, on a Spanish galleon’s deck. Gregory wasn’t far behind, glancing around timidly as he got to his feet. When he realized what Henry was up to, he grinned. Nathan and Gregory flanked Henry and added their heels to the body, sweeping a path through the glass with the corpse. They howled their cries of war.

A Spaniard charged Nathan, screaming like a demon driven from Hell. Nathan staggered backwards, collapsed against a cannon, and instinctively thrust his cutlass forward. The Spaniard impaled himself with his own momentum, though Nathan did not see it; his eyes were squeezed shut. He felt a warm splatter of blood on his arms and face, and the dead man collapsed against him, sliding along the blade. Nathan spent several precious seconds trying to get out from under the corpse, and finally he was able to push the body to one side and wrench his cutlass free.

When he stood he was treated to the battle in its full scope.

One-Eyed Henry was taking on two Spaniards at once. He quickly impaled one and was then stuck in the leg by the second. He cried out, reared back, and raked his blade across the second Spaniard’s chest. Henry then limped away and fell to a safe spot on the deck near the mainmast, and from there he would watch the remainder of the battle.

Gregory readily took the carpenter’s place. He was wielding his cutlass with the grace of a crazed monkey, and the wild strategy, if one could call it such, seemed to be working for him. That is, until he wedged himself between two bars of the capstan and was unable to swing his cutlass without his elbow hitting one of the bars. A Spaniard seized the opportunity and raked his blade across Gregory’s belly, spilling his guts. He dropped to his knees and frantically attempted to put each slimy tendril back in its place. A second blade entered his chest, pinning him to the capstan. His hands fell limp and his intestines christened the deck.

The battle afforded Nathan no time to comprehend what he had seen. Spaniards were crawling out of the square opening of the hold like spiders to replace those that had fallen. The two that had killed Gregory started for Nathan, and the sight of them nearly stopped his heart. Fortunately, one of them was tripped up by a gleaming rope of intestine and fell into the mess.

Livingston and Griffith finally hefted themselves over the bulwark and raised their cutlasses. Nathan fell between them, exchanged a nod with each, and then joined them in a charge. The second of Gregory’s killers broke away to intercept Livingston and Griffith. The first got to his feet and, now doused in Gregory’s blood, continued toward Nathan. Strangely, Nathan lost his fear. Perhaps the presence of Griffith and Livingston calmed him. He held his cutlass high above his head and bellowed a war cry at the top of his lungs. The Spaniard skidded to a halt, but his feet were too far ahead of his body and he fell flat on his ass. Nathan got on top of him, placed a foot on his belly, and plunged his cutlass into the man’s left eye socket.