(-Cartagena de Indias, Columbia ~ 1698 A.D.-)
"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures..."
Bruttis spoke such words to stir the hearts of men into taking daggers to the heart of Julius Caesar. Today, the Empire used these words to justify driving a cutlass into the hearts of all enemy nations.
From Shakespeare to the mouth of King William III, words of poetry become words of politics...such was the English gift of the tongue.
Emerald eyes reflected the flames of the port of Cartagena de Indias that burned like a fallen star in the night. Gluttonous fire consumed straw and mud buildings like a Cerberus from the Third Circle, tearing through the port town with abandonment. Somewhere beyond the living infernos humans were screaming, women crying to God and men throwing challenges at the animals who brought hell upon them. These animals wore the garb of buccaneers and carried the swords of cutthroats. They were armed with the flintlocks of men with no conscience and the will to use them on anything within range.
They had no more discretion than the flames; they all made Arthur sick.
However bitter the taste in his mouth, the man dressed in red velvet stood without movement upon the gently rocking dock along Cartagena de Indias. With the backdrop of a commandeered Spanish Galleon behind him, Arthur stood bearing the regalia of his English origin and captain's status before the burning town. Anchored out in the cover of darkness was his real ship, his frigate. His ship waved the English colors when close enough to friendly waters, but right now her mast waved the colors of piracy...and had been when she ran down the ill-prepared Galleon, allowing the crew of overtake and overthrow the Spaniards into the sea. The plan had moved like clockwork: the stolen ship with raised Spanish flags had lowered the cannons of the port as the people welcomed the friendly vessel, and the moment she docked and the gang-plank fell...the first bodies burst with blood, and the invasion began.
Arthur never once turned his eyes away from the massacre. He had brought this damnation upon these people, so he would not avert his eyes to escape the memory. His expression was stoic as the ash rained down from the sky, he never flinched as another scream ended in a gurgled gasp, and he never tensed as laughter accompanied gunshots. The empire had been commissioning pirates to wreak havoc upon rival empirical colonies for years now, so he had bore witness this scene time and time again. This port was an important resource and financial asset to Spain, an empire his own government was eager to further upset the balance of considering the current war they were dealing with. Aside from being rivals for centuries, Spain had thrown its lot in with France in more than one conflict...and anyone who allied themselves with France...was an enemy of England.
Arthur watched Cartagena de Indias burn and did so with no satisfaction, but he could scarcely feel pity either. If anything, he felt only anger that his ruling bodies had chosen such methods by which to carry out their attacks on rival interests. Pride aside...these acts were down right messy.
But even he couldn't argue the effectiveness of them; this would deal a significant blow to Spain.
The port burned throughout the night and smoldered well into the morning. The men who returned to the Galleon by dawn as instructed left with their captain back to the proper frigate before scuttling the Spanish ship; those who hadn't returned, were left behind in the now dead town.
The only structure still standing in the entire town was the church Arthur had specifically instructed not to be burned. The only task he had taken upon himself during the massacre was to ensure the message for his rival was left in a place he would find it. On the altar of the humble Catholic Church, drafted on a blank scroll in Arthur's clear handwriting proclaimed, "Ojo por ojo. Para la Costa de los Mosquitos."
And one Spanish doubloon, evenly coated in the blood of a Spanish sailor.
Antonio couldn't say that he hadn't known what had happened, but the sight before him nearly stopped his breath. The entire port was burned to the ground; the white sandy pathways through the town were darkened with long since spilt blood and gore, the buildings were all snuffed of life and shells of their former selves if not rubble. Walking through what was once a treasured seaport was now a trance like shuffle through a nightmare. The smell of smoke and withering fire was cloying, but even worse was the unmistakable smell of flesh in the flames. He realized there one building was left standing, the Church. He stormed through the doors expecting to find the man who had ravaged the port, only to find emptiness and the sacred idol hanging His saddened visage over his alter. Silence seemed to engulf the atmosphere of this place, even the horrible noises from outside seemed to die.
Slowly, Spain approached the altar of the church and found a piece of paper with a blood soaked doubloon. On the paper written "Ojo por ojo. Para la Costa de los Mosquitos". He turned on his heel, crimson coat billowing behind him as he made his way back to his ship.
His men, the loyal sailors he had brought with him to Cartagena, had finished their job of rounding up the pirates who had been left behind. The sun was now fully above the horizon and Antonio realized that he had to move swiftly. Inglaterra was not going to get away with this. He stood before the abandoned men with a look of disgust, as if they were nothing but cockroaches. To him, they might as well have been. There was no mercy left in his soul. "Kill them all. If Inglaterra can afford to leave them here, then they can afford to be lost." He turned his back to the line of men and proceeded to his ship.
His crew was already making preparations to leave and had all assumed that they would be returning home. He doused their hopes when he informed them that they were going after Inglaterra. The Englishman's ships were no match for the Spanish Galleon and he would prove so one final time. They would set sail on the next tide and catch Inglaterra off guard. This time he would pay.
The wake of the frigate was wide and deep, cutting through the water like the billowing spear of a god through air. The white spray that burst forth from the churning tides looked like the blood of clouds, and with each passing moment that fled into the distance the wounds closed over and become the solid sky again; what man bled of the ocean, the ocean regenerated just as quickly. Land and man were marring things in this open world...land and man meant more conflicts and more messes...
The sea was perfect and the goddesses refused to allow the filth of man to soil its beauty, and so had the power to wash man away beneath the waves of infinity.
It was one of the things he liked best about his new job.
It had been nearly a full day since leaving Cartagena de Indias, and Arthur knew his main adversary in this part of the world was on his way. Part of the plan had been to execute the destruction of Cartagena so that the avatar of the Spanish Empire would be within sailing range, yet not fast enough to catch up to the ship Arthur was captaining immediately. He wanted his old rival to seethe with anger and wallow in the devastation he left behind...he wanted all of his attention focused on one target now, a target sailing further and further away from him.
Even he had to admit, Antonio Fernandez Carriedo was a dangerous man when angry...no, enraged - but it also reduced him to a one-track mind that acted like a double-edged sword. It made him the perfect hunter.
But not the perfect strategist.
The soft cooing of the bird in his hand gave him pause from his thoughts, and emerald eyes shifted from the wake of his ship to the white and grey pigeon in his hands. He had been standing at the stern of the frigate, idly stroking the bird into a lax state as he watched the sea and waited. He wasn't waiting for the sight of Spanish Galleons over the horizon to set the rest of the world into motion...but something else...
Maybe...confirmation that he was still doing the right thing.
Without another thought, Arthur uncupped the bird in his hands and released the languid animal into the sky. It rapidly beat its wings against the air and dipped over the edge of the railing before disappearing into the direction of his distant homeland beyond...
The scroll securely attached to its foot vanishing along with it.
Antonio guessed from their current position, they were about a full day behind Arthur. He was standing aboard the largest Galleon in his fleet. If this ship couldn't take down Inglaterra; no, this ship WOULD take down Inglaterra. There were no 'ifs' in this battle. He would keep his crew sailing throughout the night in hopes that they would catch the Englishman off guard.
La Galeon de Florencia held 52 guns ready to blow apart anything it came across and the crew manned them were the best of the best. Antonio hoped that by dawn the following morning, Inglaterra's ship would be in site and he would watch it sink to the bottom of the ocean with Arthur aboard.
The knock at the door to the stateroom was meek and barely audible over the creaking of the wooden ship. Half-lidded eyes never rose from the map before him as a deep command to enter yielded the entrance of one of the lesser sailors of the crew - likely the man who lost a bet and therefore had to deliver whatever news to the captain. It was well known to the man in red that he inspired as much fear as he did grudging respect amongst his crew, one he hadn't been in command of for more than a few months and likely wouldn't be in control of for but a few more. These men meant as little to him as the last group of low-lifes he had commissioned to go on runs like these.
Again, they served their purpose...nothing more.
The long stretch of silence began to annoy him and finally he raised his gaze to meet the nameless, dirty, sot who stood shaking like a leaf in his cabin. He frowned and finally set down his quill. "Get on with it."
The man jumped and stammered pure nonsense before taking a shuttered breath, "Th-there's...there's a sh-ship, sir...s-sighted over the horizon...o-off the stern-"
Arthur's eyes returned to his work and he picked up the quill again, "That will be all."
The man was silenced immediately and stood gapping at the captain. There was a frozen moment where Arthur completely ignored his presence before the stiff jointed man snapped an awkward salute and scrambled out of the cabin. A muted atmosphere was left in his wake, and Arthur made one last notation on the map before recapping his writing utensil and pushing away from his desk. He righted his cuffs and straightened his long coat, smoothed frock and grabbed the sword belt hanging from the back of his chair. Buckling the leather strap onto his waist made him strangely more relaxed; with one flintlock holstered along his right leg, the other hidden behind his back, and finally the cutlass at his left side, he felt whole again.
At last he took his tricorn hat from the table and fixed it over his unruly blonde hair. A cascading plumage of African feathers trailed over one shoulder, and on the other side he felt the weight of Chinese pearls, Indian gemstones, and spun thread from American gold holding it all together. Two shells adorn the back end of the hat, one from each end of the British West-Indies, and below them were sewn one piece of Aztec gold and an inverted Fleur de Liles. Each corner of the Empire was with him at all times, and the final two pieces were areas soon to be conquered and assimilated.
The deck was in a flurry of activity; men were scurrying from one end to the next, some securing moveable objects with rope while others carried arms from the store room below onto the deck, or reinforcing the sails that were now lagging with the fading wind. Others, the less experienced lot, were all hanging over the side of the railings trying to gawk at the speck in the distance. The sun was rising out of the east, casting red and orange flames over the black figment growing on the horizon, and reinforced the superstitious fear of many that this omen boded ill.
The moment the first sailor noticed Arthur and barked out a command for attention, all motion ceased and all eyes –calm, tense, and fearful– turned towards him in silence.
The Englishman took in what he had to work with, and after a swift mental assessment he turned to the aft deck and pulled out a spyglass, extending the visor, and focused on the sight of the ship trailing them.
A Spanish Galleon. By the looks of the horizontal protrusions from the sides, a heavily armed one indeed.
Closing the telescope, Arthur turned on heel and began shouting orders, "I want all able-bodied cannon operators stationed below! Any marksmen remain on deck and begin loading your weapons. I want enough gunpowder left in the hold for the cannons, and the rest brought up to the deck immediately. If you have a sword I want it on you from this point forward, and I want NO ONE to make any moves that could be taken as an act of war without direction from me!"
Men were sent scrambling. Some crashed into each other in their hast to carry out their orders, others were like well-oiled machines and performed their duties silently and efficiently. A massive group raced below to begin moving items as commanded while others began reinforcing the deck. Arthur turned from them all and returned to the helmsman, one of the few sailors he carried over from previous voyages for his skills and ability to follow orders, and began giving him direction as well.
"The winds are dying, meaning we'll be sitting in the water once our momentum runs out. I won't issue oars be dropped into the water until the last possible moment; when I give the signal, I want you to take us as hard to port as possible," Their eyes locked for a moment, and the helmsman shivered. "...I want the cannons in range as soon as possible."
There was a wide-eyed moment of surprise in the human as Arthur waited for confirmation he understood. While the man nodded and affirmed he would follow orders, he couldn't fathom his superior's logic for a moment. They were only mildly matched against a heavily armed and armored Spanish Galleon…wouldn't it be best to run?
"A-as you wish, captain."
Arthur returned a nod and left the man to his work. They were less than a two or three-day sail from the British owned colonies of the Mosquito Coast, and soon Spain would be out of friendly waters. They hadn't crossed the line yet, but momentarily they would...now it was a race to see if Spain could catch him before it was too late.
Arthur returned to the stern of the ship and looked out at the ever-growing dot in the distance. Antonio had put on some speed…and Arthur grinned. The Spaniard must have realized that the stakes of the game had changed.
"Alright, Anthony...let us see just how passionate you are about seeing me hang."
When word reached his ears that an English vessel had been spotted ahead of them, Antonio quickly ran to the bow of the ship to confirm for himself. It was there, in all its small glory, on the horizon. They would be upon the poor ship by noon.
"It seems Inglaterra has run out of wind and is slowing down." He heard laughter from his crew behind him. "It seems that God favors us today boys! Everyone man your stations and be prepared for a full on assault by noon!" His crew was just as anxious to see Arthur pay as he was. Most, if not all of them, had some family or possessions in Cartagena that they lost when the town burned. The deck looked chaotic, but it was organized. Every man knew their job and they knew it well. Things were running smoothly.
He strode back to his cabin to dress in his best attire. His crimson long coat was roped and adorned with Aztec gold. It easily rivaled the coat of any of his kings. Underneath the coat laid his silver embroidered frock with laden jeweled necklaces. The finest, most flawless pearls, red silks ropes, gold suns, and plumage from tropical birds decorate his black crushed velvet tricorn hat. Even his polished, black boots were adorned with jewels. He was the richest empire, laying claim to over half of the new world so why not show off just a little?
His Rapier, now attached to his hip, was no exception either. The hilt was made of out pure gold, with silver inlay at key points so that when it caught the sun just right, it would blind the opponent for enough of a split second opening. This often ended fatally for those on the other end of the sword. Two flintlock pistols hung from their holsters on each leg and his Gauche lay in a sheath across his back, made ready to grab by placing his hand at the base of his spine.
There was a light rap on his door. He beckoned the customary 'enter' and his lookout stepped through the door.
"Señor Carriedo, it seems as if the English vessel has come to a halt. We are gaining on them faster than before." The man stood there waiting for orders. Antonio walked behind his desk and glanced at the maps. They were almost in unfriendly waters. "Very well, make ready the guns but do not fire until I give the order." Snapping a hasty salute, the young man returned to the deck and the orders were given.
He smirked to himself, "Be ready Inglaterra, you are about to meet your maker."
The battle station bells rang out; a chorus of shouts from below accompanied the screeching of heavy steel sliding over worn wood as the cannons were positioned. The side panels of the ship rose as the massive guns were shoved into place and heavy iron shot thunked into stacks to await their turn to bite into Spanish foes. While organized chaos among the crew reigned, Arthur remained composed and calm at his place by the stern, watching the Galleon move closer and closer to his ship...
He could see the ornate figure carved beneath the keel without the aid of the glass. He knew then it was time.
Arthur turned and walked a third-length of the ship to the helmsman's post, foregoing the stairs and effortlessly bounding onto the deck with a single haul and leap over the banister. The seasoned human was accustomed to his captain's odd physical tendencies and didn't bat an eyelash, but continued to look out at the crew on deck with a worried gaze.
Men now lined the starboard side of the ship, rifles and pistols at the ready. There were a few smaller cannons on deck that were primed and ready to go, but chances were they would not be very effective since the recoil would make them a trial to recalibrate. The men all looked tense and nervous, but Arthur didn't seem worried in the least.
They were dead in the water in nautical terms…many expected they would be in literal terms soon enough.
With nothing but the rocking of the ship in the waves to disrupt the stillness of the scene and the creaking of the boat to give it sound, sailors braced for anything yet knew not what to expect. This wasn't just another pirate vessel approaching them; it was a ship of the Spanish Empirical fleet. Small shadows began to fall upon the desk as birds began to circle, the curious animals smart enough to sense a possible feast was to be had, and more superstitious men began whispering prayers to known and unknown gods.
The sun was rising higher, and so was the temperature. At least their watery graves would be warm today.
Suddenly, a soft breeze swept over the deck and licked the sails. Most were too busy staring at the water, but a few looked up and took notice. The breeze teased the thick fabric again, and this time with more force. The helmsman turned his eyes to the captain and couldn't help but see the wicked grin barely suppressed on his lips. If the human didn't know any better...he'd think the captain had summoned god's breath himself.
With a soft jolt, the ship began to move forward again – slowly, but the waters began to part and the frigate gained motion. The helmsman took a death grip on the wheel as the captain turned and peered around the cabin obstructing the view of the stern. He was smiling again. The helmsman didn't need to look at the man to tell.
"He's caught up...good."
A new shadow was beginning to fall on the British frigate...but this one was more felt than seen.
The frigate was gaining more and more speed, nothing fast enough to out run the Galleon now, but enough to where they were just keeping a ship's length before her. It was then that Arthur turned back to the crew on deck, grabbed the rail and shouted, "HARD TO PORT! HOLD YOUR POSITIONS AND FIRE ON MY COMMAND!"
It was all the warning the helmsman got before a sharp look from his captain's piercing green eyes made him gasp. He grabbed the wheel and yanked it so fast the spokes spun at a speed they ran together like a solid ring around the rim. The roaring protest of the ship was deafening and some men screamed when they fell to the deck and slid from the momentum. Ropes tethering equipment to the ship were tested to their limits and the noises below deck were almost as bad as the ones above it. Arthur was holding on from the movement himself, and the ship completely spun in the water as it pulled in the path directly alongside the Galleon.
They would only have seconds to fire off what they could at the speed the Galleon was going, but the element of surprise was theirs and Arthur would not pass it up.
British cannons burst like miniaturized volcanoes and sent projectiles ripping into the Galleon. Wood and shrapnel created a maelstrom of debris in the air with both God grown and man forged splinters large enough to kill a man. Fire from gun powder kegs being hit on both vessels erupted like bombs and Arthur found himself needing to brace as the charred remains of men flew over his head at one point.
There was shouting from the deck. Panicked shouting. Not a sound Antonio wanted to hear. He rushed to the deck to find that the English vessel had turned around and with what light wind they had, were sailing right up next to La Galeon de Florencia. The Spaniard had only seconds to react as he caught sight of Arthur. His vision filled with red as the memories of yesterday's village burning to the ground flooded his mind. All of his men were ready; he simply needed to give the command. And he did so at about the same time he heard Arthur shout the command to his crew.
It sounded as if God himself had let out a mighty roar. Everything around Antonio seemed to move in slow motion as his eyes fell on Arthur. The ship below shook as cannon balls and shrapnel tore holes through it. What quality his cannons lacked, they made up for in sheer numbers. Splinters of wood and metal flew past his head and embedded themselves in the mast behind is back. For a single moment his olive colored eyes locked with Inglaterra's emerald ones; everything else faded from view. His only objective was to kill that man.
Duel damage was wrought on both vessels as the frigate pitched each time an enemy cannonball laid into it, and one of the main masts was fractured when a stray iron sphere slammed into it from the direction of the Galleon. The crews on both decks were firing rifles and pistols at one another, screams and splashes from men falling into the water between the ships seemed to punctuate the tempo of battle. Just as Arthur was preparing to order men to the bow to continuing firing as the ships would pass, unified shouts in Spanish from the other vessel made him start.
"PREPARE TO BOARD!"
'Prepare to board? Was Antonio mad!
This was the Spaniard's favorite part. No hiding behind cannons, just man-to-man combat. The grappling hooks started to fly, catching in the rigging of the English sails; some hooks even managed tear a sail open. Before Arthur knew it, more grappling hooks shot from over the railing of the Galleon and grasped onto his ship. He watched with disbelief as cables tethered the ships and suddenly the frigate gave off a bone-twisting groan of objection as the momentum of the passing vessels began to negate each other. Both ships were now perpetually locked together in the struggle to survive, and Arthur did not like the side the odds were favoring.
The frigate jolted to a full stop and sent men flying every which way, Arthur himself was slammed against the side of the cabin with his helmsman at his feet. Pain shot through his side as numbness ran down his arm, then another jolt forced him to grab both the helmsman and the helm to anchor them as the mighty ship was forced into a violent tow alongside the still moving Galleon. More than once the two ships collided and bounced away from each other. Arthur barely had time to toss the human off the raised deck before Spaniards swiftly began boarding the ship.
Antonio nonchalantly walked over to the port side of his ship and glared at Arthur, barely affected by the shuddering of his greater ship forcing the smaller frigate along for a ride. He was finally going to be face to face with the heathen who had been terrorizing him. Shattered pieces of deck were still flying as he grabbed one of the ropes dangling from a grappling hook and swung to meet Inglaterra. He landed with both feet firm and unwavering and he drew his rapier and pointed it at Arthur.
Arthur was still hanging onto the helm when the man himself landed on the helmsman's deck, and the Englishman felt a snarl rise within him. Spain wasn't playing along with the plan, which irritated him. Arthur knew it was Spain's specialty to keep things to close quarters, hence the heaviness of the ships in his fleet and his choice of weapons, but not even he expected the man would risk BOTH vessels and crew to perform such a risky boarding. Arthur refused to allow the bloody sot to walk away without paying for this debauchery.
"Come Inglaterra. Let us finish this."
"You're a literal pain in the neck, you know," Arthur said before drawing the cutlass at his side, and suddenly rushing the Spaniard.
Antonio bounded back a few steps before bringing his own weapon up to block the assault; a growl emitting from his throat. "Did you really think that I was going to let you get away with burning one of my most important ports?" The Spaniard snarled, putting strength behind his block and shoving the smaller man back, following up with a swift slash to the man's face that drew blood beneath his eye. "You would have been better off sailing away on the Galleon you managed to capture. You might have actually had a chance in this fight if you had done so."
Arthur refused to counter Antonio's banter with anything less than action. His first rush had failed and the cut he earned on his face was nothing short of aggravating. The footing on the constantly shuttering vessel was poor at best, but he would have to manage.
It wasn't as if he hadn't done it before.
Antonio smirked, his green eyes growing sharp and bright. Even his men would not approach him with such a look on his face. He wanted revenge for what happened at Cartagena de Indias. He would settle for no less than the spilling of all of Inglaterra's blood upon the deck. Everything around him dissolved until only he and Arthur were left. He would either defeat Arthur here or die trying.
Another bit of déjà vu came to Arthur from the look in Antonio's face. He had the look of Achilles after the death of Patroclus. The look of righteous anger gave him the gleam of determination to see vengeance done, almost to the point of madness. This was a mode Arthur had encountered before in his long history with the fellow empire, and one he knew the man would be at his physical peek.
But also, mentally at his weakest.
Performing his part as the Hector of old, Arthur intended to rewrite this nautical Iliad as he threw himself at Antonio once more. The Spaniard was armed with a sleek rapier, something ornate and used mainly by men of his station rather then the common men of the seas. His English cutlass was thicker, folded with more steel, and while shorter it was slightly curved to give it more uses than just thrusting or meager slicing.
Arthur's blade was meant to cleave a man in two, and he intended to do just that.
The two engaged in a series of combinations, Arthur taking the high offensive at first to accommodate the height difference between them as he focused on forcing Spain into losing ground. But in his state, Antonio proved a man willing to give no more ground than he was willing to allow sanity back into his justice-seeking mind. Arthur no sooner found himself on the defensive then he did with his back against the railing, and quickly he tossed himself to the side of it and back onto the helmsman's deck to avoid any further advance.
Quickly, the British pirate lord rolled to his feet and slashed a deep gash along Antonio's upper bicep when he rose.
With the blood of each gracing each other's swords, Arthur brought a thumb up to his cheek and wiped an offending drop away of his own, "Push me, Anthony...I'll only push back harder."
This had been the point of burning Cartagena de Indias in the first place; revenge for the attacks by Spain on his colonies along Central America's Mosquito Coast.
Antonio hissed at the gash on his arm and advanced on the Englishman, pushing him back farther towards the bow of the ship where there was less room for the shorter, quick man to maneuver about it; perfect for Antonio.
The advance was fast and vicious, forcing Arthur not just off the helmsman's deck, but also right over the railing and landing awkwardly on the pitching deck before Antonio was on him again. Sailors of both crews were firing flintlocks, brandishing swords, daggers, and pikes as the battle between nations raged on. More than once both captains had to side step a fallen body or dodge a stray man or projectile as Arthur continued to lose ground and Antonio gained. While the man hailing from 'La Furia Roja' didn't seem to be breaking a sweat, the man of the Isle felt his stamina failing him. The blonde managed to lock swords and push the brunette back for a moment, just long enough to steal a glance behind him and find nothing but a sudden drop off the end of his own ship.
For the first time since the game began, his confidence wavered. He hadn't realized until that moment just how much ground he had lost.
Without warning the Galleon clumsily crashed into the side of the frigate, forcing Arthur to grab onto the lines running from the tip of the bow to one of the masts. He lost his footing for a moment, but remained upright and regained standing quickly after seeing Spain had no such luck. The Spaniard, on the other hand, was so caught off guard he lost his footing completely, falling onto his back. As Arthur's eyes locked onto his opponent, realizing he now had the advantage, the Englishman quickly brandished his cutlass and moved in.
Antonio saw it, and was having none of it.
Antonio discarded his sword and quickly drew his flintlock pistols and aimed them at Arthur as he scrambled back to his feet. Arthur froze where he stood as Antonio stole the advantage back. "You keep pushing Inglaterra and I shall have to shoot you instead. Surrender."
Arthur found himself staring down two barrels at the wrong end. He still had one hand steadying him on the rope netting while the other tightened on his sword. Again, the Spaniard was surprising him, this time by resorting to more modern weapons than his traditional sort. Both of them had crossed lines before, and Arthur had been more than prepared to cross the one at Cartagena, but now he found himself bearing witness to the results of apparently having gone too far.
No, it was his rival empire that had gone too far this time.
Arthur had only just begun to up the stakes.
Rather than throwing down the sword in defeat, Arthur kept his eyes on his opponent and defiantly sheathed the cutlass in one swift motion. He returned his hands to his sides and continued to glare insolently at the Spaniard.
"You've tethered us together in more than one respect; not only is your ship's life now dependent upon mine, but your crew with it," Arthur began, another round of cannon fire from the Galleon pitching the frigate, but this time Arthur stood his ground and didn't waver. "You killed the men I left in Cartagena," He knew Spain would, "and you'll kill these men should any of them survive this."
The breeze died, and the sails of the ship with it.
"As he that dies pays all debts..." Arthur began, his voice low and carrying over the chaos. "…Consider us even."
Without warning, Arthur reached behind his coat and withdrew his hidden pistol. He knew the move was going to get him shot, he knew it was going to hurt like hell if it didn't kill him right away, and he knew the impact this close to the edge would end in nothing but the Atlantic. Even so, he had made his decision and sealed the fate of his ship and his crew.
The barrels he had ordered be brought on deck to line the base of the helmsman's cabin, along the edges of the ship, and the trail below into the depths of the hull had been done so for a reason.
The option of last resort - turning the frigate into a bomb.
Arthur pulled the trigger and the bullet sailed. He had aimed it in the direction of his foe, but only because well behind the Spaniard rested the mass of barrels secured to the ship. Those who were already dead or dying never saw it coming, and when the fiery projectile hit its mark the resounding explosion shredded the air and deck around it.
There was a brief moment of pain before Arthur screwed his eyes shut and no longer felt his feet upon the bow.
Antonio had taken no time to react when Arthur pulled his gun and aimed it at him. He pulled the triggers in his own hands landing a bullet in each of Inglaterra's shoulders. However there was a third gunshot, one that didn't register in his mind until after the barrels at the base of the helmsman's cabin exploded behind him, sending him reeling forward and off the bow of the ship.
The blast emitted shockwaves that sent men and debris flying, the chain reaction of barrels sent fireballs and thick black smoke into the air. The fire consumed oxygen and the deck was ripped apart plunging those who hadn't been sent overboard down into the inferno now raging beneath. The explosions followed implosions, bursting everything internal and external if close enough, and almost at once the sea moved in to flood the hole-ridden ship.
The Galleon was not spared damage from the explosions, and the ropes keeping it tied to the ship were pulling it precariously off kilter.
As the ocean surged to punish such treachery and filth upon her seas, the world plunged into nothing but silence for Arthur. There was a stinging sensation somewhere in his chest, like salt in an open wound, but he couldn't think well enough to decide if it was a bullet wound or from shrapnel. His brain felt sluggish and disoriented, his body lax and unwilling to move. His entire form hurt, as though he'd been thrown against a stonewall and was now floating in endless space.
His lungs demanded air, but all he seemed able to give them was water. Burning salt water flooded his nose, mouth, and throat like acid and filled his aching body, giving it the substance of lead. A primal part of his brain sprang into action, sending signals down nerve endings that commanded movement towards the life giving surface, but his body seemed dead set on committing mutiny. His eyes wouldn't open, and a part of him was lulled into a sleepy acceptance that the darkness was much more merciful. It was growing colder the further he fell, but he couldn't say it was unpleasant.
Not far from where Arthur had gone down beneath the waves, the Spaniard resurfaced and turned to find his Galleon rolling onto its side to the point of no return. Shock took over his body as La Galeon de Florencia groaned one last time before giving over the ropes and capsized before his eyes.
Seeing as how there wasn't much else he could do, Antonio started to swim away from the flaming wreckage of his once beloved ship. Inglaterra was nowhere to be seen and there were dead bodies everywhere. He secretly hoped that Arthur was one of them; however, he would rather find the man alive and kill him himself.
He set himself a mission to find Arthur's body. His wish was soon granted when the highly adorned hat of the Englishman floated by. Taking a breath, Antonio dove beneath the surface and caught a flash of red falling farther away from him. He swam towards the crimson blemish amongst the world of blue and latched onto the man's coat before fighting his way back to towards the sunlight with his catch. He broke the surface and gratefully filled his lungs with air. Once he was able to tread the water without too much difficultly, he checked the condition of the man in his arms. Much to his dismay, Inglaterra was still alive – unconscious but alive.
"Maldito! You couldn't just save me the trouble, could you Inglaterra?" Despite his urge to just hold the man's head underneath the water, Antonio grabbed onto Arthur's arm and started to swim.
Damn his conscience.
He was now in enemy territory. They had managed to start fighting the English vessel in friendly waters, but by the time the ships had stopped, they were in English territory. This was somewhere the Spaniard did not want to be. He didn't have much of a choice and swam north. According to the maps he had in his quarters, there was a small island not far from where they were. It was there, he decided, he would bring Inglaterra and wait for him to wake up. While he normally didn't play by the rules, Antonio found it very unsettling to kill someone unarmed and helpless when he was able to think clearly.
An hour of swimming, and fighting with Inglaterra's body later, Antonio finally pulled himself up on the beach. It was a very small island with little vegetation, a few trees, and less square mileage than most lordly estates…but it would do.
He removed his coat and laid it on the dry sand. It would have been a wiser decision to discard it when he had been thrown from the ship, but it was his favorite coat, so he kept it, for the same reason he grabbed Inglaterra's hat. It was a symbol of his pride and conquests. He would go to hell before he got rid of it.
Glancing down at Arthur, Antonio still saw his chest rise and fall, albeit shallowly. Served him right what he did to Cartagena and now both of their ships. His rage had subsided and was now replaced with exhaustion. His largest ship was gone and he was stranded on an island with his rival, whom he should have just left out at sea for the sharks to feast upon. However, they were national avatars, and while he wanted to see Inglaterra suffer, it was no reason to make the innocent people back on the small island north of his own home,
From what he could see, there wasn't much on their current 'home'. The trees bore no fruit and the place was barely big enough for the poor excuse for a tropical forest it claimed, no animals roaming about, and worst of all no sign of civilization. Antonio sat in the sand next to Arthur's body and waited. He would awaken sooner or later, and when that happened, well, he would see what would happen then.
Suddenly, pain exploded under his arms as someone grabbed him from behind. His chest and shoulder flared with pain and his lulled state became jolted back into grudged awareness. The chill became a wash of warmth when red exploded everywhere, blinding him behind his eyelids as his head rolled back against something moving and solid. For the first time since being deafened by the explosion he heard someone panting and cursing in Spanish in his ear.
He would have cared more if his body hadn't decided to cooperate again at the promise of oxygen, and spasm before expelling great amounts of seawater back into the Atlantic.
The more water he coughed and vomited out, the more exhausted he became. His eyes still refused to open, and incredible pain throbbed like a thousand daggers rattling about in his skull...But his lungs welcomed the air, despite the agony returned feeling brought.
An indeterminate amount of time passed, and only the rhythmic sound of moving through water and paced breathing brought images to the world around him. He wasn't being towed along in a terribly comfortable position, but after a while he was numb to it. Between the warm water, warm body, and the movement, he was falling back into the darkness.
He didn't become aware of anything again until he suddenly impacted with something unforgiving. The wounds in his torso flared and his head sent shockwaves of pain from his skull all the way down his spine. He tried to clench his hands and found it difficult due to the stiffness. His joints creaked and he groaned, moving his head to the side and feeling something warm and grainy against his skin...
Arthur slowly eased his eyes open, but the brightness of the sun forced him to squeeze them closed at the blinding light. He groaned and turned his head to the other side, as if that might be better, and tried again...when he reopened his eyes, the blurry outline of a figure in white…tossing something red to the earth sparked a vague identity in his mind.
...No one else could have survived that explosion...
Arthur wanted to reach for a gun or his sword, but his arms still wouldn't cooperate. There was a brief moment of panic, but it never reached his face. He thought about what occurred on the ship, how the guns went off and now his chest and shoulders were aching horribly...Spain really had shot him...bastard. So why save him after the fact?
If Spain intended to see the job done, he'd have done it before going through all the trouble of dragging him here.
He closed his eyes again and turned his face back towards the sky. He was extremely tired and his body hurt everywhere. He could feel himself repairing, but it would take time...given Spain didn't snap between now and then...
He might get the chance to kill him first.
Antonio caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and after a moment's pause he leaned over the Englishman.
"So you are alive, Inglaterra. I was beginning to fear that you would not wake up."
This was a downright lie. He knew Arthur would eventually wake up; however, he expected a bit more of a reaction out of the man. Some angry words maybe. It was uncharacteristic for Inglaterra to be so quiet, even when on the brink of death.
Antonio picked himself up off and sand and strode to stand between the sun and Arthur. "You are one very lucky hombre de Inglés. Who knows where you would be had I not saved you…even if I did shoot you and destroy your ship. There is nothing left for you Inglaterra. I have finally brought you down and there is nothing you can do about it." He sneered, placing his hands on his hips and bending over. "How long do you think it will take before someone comes looking for you, hnn? Would any of your colonies really care if you went missing?"
He stood up straight again and started to walk circles around Inglaterra. The Spaniard contemplated about what to do. He could wait for the Englishman to heal and then deal with him fairly or he could beat him now while the man still couldn't move, which would be cruel. While the second idea seemed more the more fitting punishment, Antonio elected for the first and finished his circle of Inglaterra.
"Don't get me wrong Arthur, I am cabreado about my port and my ship, but I am a man of honor and I will not harm you while you are incapable of defending yourself. It seems at this point you should call me 'more of a gentleman' than yourself."
Arthur kept his eyes closed, deciding that if he had to listen to the bastard running his mouth, he'd rather not make his headache worse by looking at him. After all but declaring himself a man worthy enough to kneel at the feet of St. George, he decided to gloat about accomplishments that were not his to claim.
Yes, he had shot him. Point...two points given. But Arthur had destroyed his own ship and crew along with it. Hopefully...the prick's ship sank to the locker along with it.
In the countless years of their battling, both of them had claimed various victories and defeats. Spain seemed to think this was another under his belt...but Arthur begged to differ. As far as he was concerned: he was still alive, both of them were ship and crewless, and while they were stranded...Arthur wasn't a fool and knew they could only be inside English territory.
This was clearly his win; Antonio just didn't know it yet.
Arthur let out a breath and swallowed, his throat was raw and incredibly sore, but he really couldn't stand to listen to this arsehole any longer.
"If you're quite done..." He began his voice rough and nearly inaudible. "Either be a merciful chap and kill me now...sparing me your blasted company, or shut the hell up before I re-entertain thoughts of ripping your tongue out."
Though Arthur still couldn't get his limbs to cooperate, he really was in no mood to listen to the gloating Spaniard. If anything, he wanted to get out of the sun and go back to sleep. He was incredibly tired and still in pain. The healing process had at least closed the holes in his torso and restored lung function, but his muscles were slower to recover.
His head was also being rather spiteful. He was damn close to requesting it be cut off...
"You can entertain the idea all you want, but from where I am, you can't move. How do you propose you would go about making good on your threat, hnn?"
Antonio lay down in the sand, well out of Inglaterra's reach. Even if he was confident Arthur couldn't hurt him, he wasn't going to take any chances. He had lost both his pistols and his beloved rapier during the explosion, however his Gauche was still in its sheath in the small of his back.
Antonio closed his eyes, propping one hand behind his head and the other in the hilt of his Gauche, ready to draw it at the slightest hint of hostility. His body was sore but he had only sustained minor injuries; a few large bruises and moderate cuts. Nothing quite like Inglaterra's wounds that looked horrible from any perspective.
The Spaniard smirked to himself recalling the look on Arthur's face when the bullets penetrated his skin. Bewilderment and pain flashed behind the Englishman's carefully placed mask. This satisfied Antonio to no end. To see the stoned-face Inglaterra show any emotion other than indifference or anger was an accomplishment in itself. The man prided himself on being unreadable.
"That was quite a daring move you pulled; blowing up your own ship. I really never would have expected that of you. Though you do have a reputation for not caring about your men's lives. I just lost my best crew to you so I do have to congratulate you for that one. Not to mention you managed to take down my largest ship. But it really is sad that you would risk your entire ship and crew, when you could have easily escaped me. I thought you a better man than that Inglaterra."
Arthur kept his face blank and his eyes closed. While there was a pinch of tension threatening to break his composure, he focused on taking tempered, even breaths. Each passing moment his pain levels were decreasing, but his less than desired companion was doing nothing for his headache. The Spaniard seemed determined that that should be the last alleviation for his nemesis, and Arthur resigned himself to being forced to deal with it.
The Spaniard was now officially the most annoying man this side of the Atlantic.
What began as snide praise, from the brunette quickly turned into a backhanded compliment with a steel glove. Arthur forced himself to remain calm and not react. It wasn't as if he could deny whatever reputation the git spoke of – this wasn't the first crew or ship he'd lost at sea.
While Arthur wasn't known for being a reckless man, he was a daring one. The difference? Reckless men never have a plan, while daring ones thrived off of strategies hovering between genius and half mad. Men volunteered to fill Arthur's crews in droves because of this, as daring men garnered high profits and even greater adventures. The risks were astronomical, considering the only targets the empire ever sent Arthur after were those highly valued by other major powers, but to some that just made the missions all the more appealing.
No man who ever sailed with him was ignorant of the fatal potential of his voyages. It was the lucky ones who returned with the stories of glory who kept the rosters forever full.
This time...strategy had not paid off as well as it had so many times before. The mission had been accomplished - the colonies along the Mosquito Coast were avenged and Spain's assets were hemorrhaging, but it had come at a high cost. Did he feel bad that his men and vessel had paid that cost they all knew was possible, yet never dreamed probable?
...The human part of him mourned, but the nation part of him, his Imperialistic side had already discarded the event as just another loss of assets among a list of many.
In the end, Antonio had lost far more than he had; therefore, he would not concede defeat.
Arthur opened his eyes just a fraction, feeling the cooler air on his skin as the sun hung lower in the sky bringing about the prelude to night. It hurt his head less to look at his surroundings without the glare of the morning star to worry about, and eventually he kept his eyes focused directly overhead at the sky. The stars would be out soon...it would be easier to tell where he was once they were.
"...Perhaps you should do something useful and go gather provisions or food," Arthur began out of nowhere, still ignoring the general presence of the Spaniard in general. "If there's no way to make a fire by conventional means, then that means I'll have to do it by unconventional ones. In this state, that's next to impossible; so do us both a favor and forego the siesta to get me something for energy."
Antonio whipped his head around and glared down at the Englishman. The nerve of this blonde asshole was legendary, as was his sheer ability to be a total dick. While the Spaniard remained affronted at being chided like a servant, his stomach grumbled.
Maybe food wasn't such a bad idea.
"We'll see what happens. Fish is about the only thing we have on the menu right now. The trees have no fruit and this island is barely big enough for the few trees it does have on it. I do have one, little condition, which you must adhere to," He said, garnering a smirk and giving the Brit a smug look. "You, Inglaterra, will NOT be cooking the food."
With that said, the Spaniard hoisted himself off the ground and strode by Arthur, "tripping" as he walked by kicking up a large amount of sand. He sniggered and continued walking.
A pair of bushy eyebrows knit together immediately following the snip at his cooking skills (something that really did get under his skin), when suddenly he was forced to avert his face to the side as a tidal wave of sand fell over him.
While he quietly seethed as the Spaniard merrily continued on his way, Arthur felt a devilish grin spread across his face as, for the first time since landing on this God-forsaken island, he could clench his fists.
And slowly move his arms.
To Be Continued…
Hey guys! This is one of the authors- Em. First I want to thank you all for reading this and let you know that I REALLY appreciate it. This is my first BIG Hetalia project and I have a co-author working with me. At this point she prefers to remain anonymous and shall until she gives me the ok to post her name. Anyways, off to some notes about the story!
1.) Arthur's opening quote at the beginning of the chapter is from Shakespeare's "Julius Ceaser". Arthur references many great English, Greek, and Latin authors, philosophers, and playwrights throughout this tale and all will be references in the "Author's Notes" as they appear. Another that appeared in this chapter was "Achilles after the death of Patroclus", referring to the Grecian hero, Achilles, who's cousin, Patroclus, was slain on the battlefield of Troy and sent Achilles into a vengeful rage (thus killing the Trojan hero Hector…who I actually thought was a rather stand up guy, but there ya go). When Arthur is speaking to Antonio on the ship before the explosion he says: "As he that dies pays all debts […]" is actually a quote from "The Tempest", another Shakespearean great.
2.) The Battle of Cartagena de Indias was actually set in March of 1741, however for the events of this story we took the liberty of taking creating a foreshadowed pre-battle of sorts that turned into an invasion followed by a chase. The Spanish Caribbean had 4 main ports; Vera Cruz, Cartagena, Porto Bello and Havana. Cartagena de Indias was a large and rich city of over 10,000 people. It was the capital of the province of Cartagena and the main town had significant fortifications that had been recently repaired, added to and improved with additional outlying forts, batteries and works. Its harbor was considered one of the finest in the world and it served the galleons of the commercial fleet. Needless to say it was VERY important to the Spanish.
3.) Spain and England had very different tactics when it came to naval battles. The Spanish on one hand preferred hand to hand/close combat where the English preferred mid-range to long- range combat. This made things very difficult for the Spanish. However, despite the problems it could have caused things happened to work out in favor for Antonio. Arthur declares Antonio mad when he hears the Spaniard say "Prepare to board." This is the way the Spanish worked. Guns on Spanish ships were fired in a single salvo as a prelude to boarding; one soldier remaining by each gun for this duty while the rest of the gun teams took their places among the boarders on deck. The Spanish crews were not trained to load and fire repeatedly during a battle. After the initial broadside, Spanish crews boarded enemy vessels and fought with their superior hand to hand/close range combat. The English, however, fought on much smaller, faster, less armed ship than the Spanish. This gave them the ability to close in and fire repeated broadsides into the Spanish ships at short range while still staying out of range of the grappling hooks. Arthur did not obviously follow this tactic in our story. He attempted to broadside Antonio's ship but came in at too close a range, thus allowing the grappling of the ship.
4.) We took some liberties working with a time period too. Technically the Spanish Armada was destroyed in 1588 at the Battle of Gravelines (large and very important battle in the English Channel when Spain decided it was going to invade England…stupid idea) and the few small skirmishes after that, so even though Antonio is sailing around the Caribbean on his mighty Galleon (La Galeon de Florencia- which was a real galleon used in the 1588 battle, not to mention the largest) it isn't part of his Armada. The Spanish Empire was still in full swing AND the richest Empire in the World. He owned all of America (excluding England's collection of colonies and most of Canada), all of Central America and a good portion of South America and the Caribbean. He had territories in the West Indies and of course how could we forget all of Southern Italy. Except for the West Indies and Italy, Spain's colonies were stock full of gold and had no qualms in taking it. This all still provided a lot of problems for the English at the time.
5.) I realize that these author's notes are long and I apologize for that. It's a lot of information to fill you in on. From now on our notes shouldn't be this long. If you have any questions/concerns please do NOT hesitate to let me know.
-Ojo po ojo. Para la Coasta de los Mostquitos- An eye for an eye. For the Mosquito Coast
-Hombre de Inglés- Englishman
Again, both of us thank you for taking your time to read and review and hope to continue posting this story for you all in the near future. Until then, we hope you've enjoyed!