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DV Fic - The Ghosts of Voyages Past

For the DV Requestathon

Prompt: entropy_house requested: The ghosts of Magellan's mutineers show up before the trial.

Title: The Ghosts of Voyages Past


Francis Drake walked with his nephew along a desolate beach on the Patagonian coast, half a world away from their home in England. The Captain General glanced at the two skulls his men had retrieved from the grisly gibbet on the hillside above the beach: the remains of Magellan’s rebellious captains who had paid the price for their mutiny almost 60 years before.

“What means Port St. Julian to thee, John?” asked Drake as he looked down upon the two skulls.

“A place of death, Uncle, where Magellan executed his mutinous captains,” John replied with youthful awe.

“Aye”, said Drake, “and every man in this fleet knows it. Magellan knew that a divided command could kill a voyage as surely as a southern ocean tornado. I must do something to save the venture,” he said with grim determination, then added quietly, “Though I fear I have no commission to hang a man.”

“Did Magellan?” John asked.

Drake grunted and replied in a voice that was thick with foreboding, “I doubt it. But hang he did. And not only that, as you well know.”

“A barbarous end, uncle.”

“Aye, but a triumphant passage through the straits and no more mutiny.” Drake took a deep deliberate breath and looked across to his ships anchored in the bay, “There is but one course. I shall impanel a jury from all the ships, and Doughtie will be tried here on shore. Once he is found guilty I will move to have the problem ended.”

John looked with concern at his uncle. “He’s a powerful man, you said uncle, with many good friends at court.”

“So?”

“What if he’s found not guilty?”

Having reached the entry to his tent, Drake paused to think before continuing, “Bring Ned Bright to me.”

“Here, uncle?”

“Aye lad, and let no one know what you do.”

************


Ned Bright surreptitiously left the Captain General’s tent having spent some time discussing the evidence he would disclose to the court the following day. Drake had approved his testimony and, reminding him to speak to no one of their discussion, gave him leave to return to the ship.

Drake sat at his desk and sorted through the piles of papers before him; he was troubled by what he would do the next day, but was determined to proceed. Doughtie was endangering his venture. He would not, could not allow it, even if it meant destroying the man who had, probably more than any other, helped the dream come to fruition. Even if he must kill the man he had considered to be closer than a brother.

Drake was tired; it had been a distressing time coming to Port St. Julian. After weeks battling storms that continually separated the ships as they skirted the coast of Brazil, they had arrived in the bay seeking a much needed respite only to have two of their men killed by the native Patagonians. Their bodies now lay buried in the sand of the nearby island.

The men of the fleet were, for the most part, weak from lack of good food, dispirited by the loss of Winterey and Oliver, and extremely fearful of the journey that lay before them. Doughtie had not helped with his constant questioning of Drake’s plan to sail through the Magellan Strait to the great Pacific. Drake had met Doughtie’s objections as he had always met obstacles – head on, at full tilt, and Thomas and his brother had spent the last two weeks in close custody on board the Elizabeth. But even here Doughtie had not learnt to still his treacherous tongue.

Drake placed his head upon his crossed arms and closed his eyes, mentally rehearsing the maneuvers he could engage that would trap Doughtie and lead to his conviction. The image of the two skulls on the beach continually invaded his mind, interrupting his thoughts and as he struggled to maintain his train of thought he slowly became aware that he was not alone. He opened his eyes and looked up to see a boy sitting quietly in the shadowy corner of the tent watching him closely.

“What are you doing here, boy?” Drake barked, then taking a closer look he said, “I know you not. From which ship be you? Who is your master?”

The boy made no answer. “Speak, boy, I command thee!”

Finally the boy spoke in a soft, tremulous voice, “My master is dead, good Captain, my ship is the Victoria.”

“The Victoria? There be no such ship in my fleet, boy. Is your mind addled?”

“Nay, Captain Drake, I came not to this place with you, but with Captain Magellan. Nao Victoria is a Spanish ship.”

Drake rose quickly from his chair and reached for his sword. “Magellan? What prate is this? Try not my patience, boy, ‘tis near 60 year since Magellan visited this bay.” Drake moved forward, his sword at the ready and peered at the boy with suspicion.

“Be you then a spy for the papist king of Spain? You speak uncommon good English for a Spaniard, how come you to learn the English tongue so well?”

“I speak no English at all, Captain General, and I am Sicilian, not Spanish, my name is Antonio.”

Drake now questioned his own sanity, the boy said he spoke no English and yet Drake understood his every word. The wary Captain looked more closely at the boy. He was thin and pale with long, black unkempt hair that hung partly in front of his huge dark eyes; his clothes appeared wet; they were faded and worn and hung on his slender form like sea weed upon exposed rocks.

“You can be no more than 15 years old boy, ‘tis ne’er possible that you came here with Magellan.”

The lad replied with a sweet, lilting voice. “I served as cabin boy on the Victoria; with Master Salamon, until he was …executed ….by the Captain General. I died here in this bay all those years ago...”

Drake’s mind struggled to comprehend what the lad was telling him. Died? Was he conversing then with a ghost? Had he fallen asleep and entered this strange dream realm, or had he been poisoned by the shellfish he has eaten at dinner? Perhaps, he thought, John Doughtie had practiced some dark witchcraft upon him to conjure this young spirit. Whatever the cause of this apparition, he found himself listening with rapt attention to the boy’s improbable story.

Antonio Gineves had joined Magellan’s Armada de Molucca as page to Antonio Salaman, the master of the Victoria, but after the execution of the unfortunate man, Antonio had been left alone and unprotected on a ship of disgruntled and mutinous Spaniards. He had become the whipping boy for all upon the Victoria. Bullied and beaten, Antonio had in his desperation thrown himself into the cold waters of Port St. Julian to put an end to his torment, only to find that, for the sin of taking his own life, his soul was unable to leave the place of his death and so his torment continued.

“I mean no harm to you or your fleet, Captain Drake. I wish only to prevent a most grievous wrong; to save a Christian soul so that my own soul may at last leave this terrible place. I have spent all the days and nights since your arrival watching and listening to the crew, and I fear that tomorrow you will condemn an innocent man.”

“What would thee know of such things, boy?”

“I have lived though a vile mutiny, Captain Drake. I know treachery when I see it and I see nothing of such malice in Thomas Doughtie. He is a proud and difficult man, to be sure, but he has in his heart great love for you.”

Drake doubted this very much. When he and Doughtie had been in Ireland perhaps, and even when the voyage began, but now it was impossible to believe that Doughtie felt anything but contempt for the Captain as he daily challenged his authority.

“But come, follow me, Captain and I will show you my ship,” Antonio beckoned.

The boy moved towards the flap of the tent, but he seemed to float through the air rather than walk. Drake, still holding his sword, swung his cape around his shoulders and followed behind cautiously emerging from the tent into a night where the air was no longer bitingly cold, but was thick with a cloying, grey/green mist that obscured his view of the bay and of the stars.

At the water’s edge Drake halted abruptly and stood aghast; before him there was but one ship – a Spanish carrack. The beach and bay were otherwise deserted. “Where is my fleet?” he roared, “Where are my mariners?”

“Fear not, your fleet and your crew are safe, but for you this night there is but one ship, Captain Drake; a ship from the past which will show you the future.”

As Drake peered incredulously into the mist, a small boat appeared and propelled itself towards the shore; Drake and Antonio stepped into the little craft and were carried smoothly, without aid of sail or oar, to the side of the Spanish ship. Once onboard they were confronted by four men, or something like men, for they did not appear at all solid to Drake, and they were each of them of a terrible countenance.

“Speak not to them,” Antonio warned, “for they are spirits of a most evil nature.”

“Who are they, boy?”

“They be those who mutinied against Magellan; those who did not live to continue the voyage,” Antonio answered in a hushed voice.

Drake looked at the grim apparitions and recalled the gruesome details he had read of Magellan’s treatment of his mutineers.

Luis de Mendosa, Captain of the Victoria, killed during the attempted mutiny, but nevertheless beheaded and quartered, his head set upon a spike by a vengeful Magellan.

Gaspar de Quesada, Captain of the Concepcion, survived the mutiny but was beheaded by his own servant on the order of Magellan, and then similarly quartered and spiked. The skulls Drake’s men had discovered belonged to these two mutinous Spanish captains. Drake gave an involuntary shudder and rested his hand on the hilt of his sword.

Behind these two stood another apparition, arrogant in the extreme – Juan de Cartagena, Drake surmised, and next to him a papist priest: the two men Magellan had marooned in this desolate place.

These four spirits spoke not a word to Drake or the boy, but glared at them with unconcealed contempt.

Antonio cautiously led Drake past the gruesome assembly to take his place behind the whipstaff on the upper deck of the spectral Victoria.

When Antonio summoned the cosmic winds to fill the ghostly sails, Cartegena, Mendosa, Quesada and the priest took their place in the small boat to be ferried back to the shore. These four, Antonio explained, were condemned to haunt the shores of Port St. Julian until they too performed a Christian act of mercy to atone for their transgressions. But they had no inclination to mercy; even after almost 60 years their souls remained rent by prejudice and hated.

The Victoria set sail, but not upon the sea, she rose into the air and was swept along on a rising tide of green mist. At first Drake looked about in near panic – “What witchcraft be this?” But the Captain was ever confident having a deck below his feet and, being a true adventurer, he could not help being enthralled by the visions appearing below him. Through the mist he was permitted tantalizing glimpses of his future as it unfolded before his startled eyes: three ships, his three ships, entering a narrow strait, heading west towards the great Pacific. Drake turned to his ghostly pilot – “That is my fleet. Will they cross the Dragon’s Tail just as Magellan did and find the great Pacific, Antonio?”

“Si, Captain General, some of you will find that which you seek.”

“Some?” Drake queried, but before he could ask more, a tempest had engulfed the fleet and he heard the unmistakable sounds of a ship in distress and the plaintiff cries of the sailors on that stricken vessel.

“The Marygolde!” he gasped. “Stop boy, we must go to their aid.”

“Alas, good Captain, we can do naught for these men. Their captain is not sufficient to the challenge of saving his ship. They are destined to perish in these dark, freezing waters,” Antonio replied and with a sweep of his arms the sails filled again and the ghost ship surged on, but Drake could still hear the cries of his doomed crew.

Drake continued to watch in fascination as the Victoria sailed on above the mist shrouded globe. He saw his two remaining ships battling the fiercest winds and the roughest seas that he had ever seen. The waves were as mountains that rose from the roiling sea, then crashed upon the tiny ships in unrelenting fury. He marvelled that they were able to continue. But the Golden Hinde and the Elizabeth had no choice; each haven they sought provided no shelter for the battered ships and the weary crews. At last, in waters of such southerly latitudes that no ship had ever sailed, a thick fog enveloped the tiny fleet and Drake despaired that they had both been lost.

When finally the fog cleared Drake could only see the Golden Hinde. The Elizabeth was gone. “Be they all lost, aboard the Elizabeth?” Drake asked the boy plaintively.

“Nay Captain, but they be well separated and the Elizabeth will now make her way back to England, battered and alone.”

“Ah, you coward Wynter, I knew you to be not equal to the task!” Drake leaned over the edge of the Victoria and shouted. “No doubt you will scurry home, tail between your legs like a mongrel cur and tell your fetid tales to all who will listen!”

Antonio, afraid that Drake in his fury would fall from the ship called to him urgently, “Come away now, Captain Drake. We must hurry; I have much to show you before the dawn.”

The Victoria sped on and Antonio revealed to Drake a myriad of extraordinary sights: the taking of treasure from the Spaniards, the discovery of Nova Albion, Drake’s triumphant return to England and the knighthood and honours bestowed on him by a grateful and much enriched Queen.

“Ha! Ha!” roared Drake with unrestrained glee,” I knew it! ‘Twas ordained that I should be a knight – a rich and famous and most honoured knight!”

Drake revelled in the visions of his good fortune – the riches, the estates, the honours; a beautiful, young wife of sterling rank and substantial property. It was everything he dared dream of - he barely stopped to consider what had been the fate of Mary, the longsuffering but faithful wife he had left behind in Plymouth.

Antonio allowed Drake to savour the sweetness of his success for a time, but finally he addressed the man in an earnest tone.

“And now, good Captain, the cost:…

The boy waved his arms and brought forth again the mist obscuring Drake’s view and in the blinking of an eye they were back at Port St. Julian. A new vision replaced the sparkling pantomime of Drake’s triumphant future: Thomas Doughtie, kneeling in prayer, taking communion; confessing his sins to Fletcher; professing his innocence in the sight of God; a bizarre last meal with the still implacable Drake assuaging his conscience by the treating the condemned man with all possible amity and honour.

“You will be famous,” Doughtie said with no sign of rancour.

“Aye, but you will be in a better place,” Drake heard himself reply. He watched in wonder as his friend walked calmly to his death, bestowing his prayers for success on the venture.

“Yes, he will be in heaven and I will be famous.” Drake nodded solemnly. Well, if this were the price of his wondrous future Drake was prepared to pay it. For England, for his Queen, the venture must succeed.

“He is innocent of the charge of mutiny, Captain; will you let such a man die for your venture?” asked Antonio, and seeing that Drake was still determined to take this murderous course continued, “There is then, one final scene to be revealed, Captain.”

As the mist again swirled in from the sea Drake saw his three remaining ships departing Port St. Julian. A chilling shiver possessed Drake as he tried to make out the new scene formed in front of him.

“What be this vision you conjure, boy?”

Thomas now too appeared as an apparition – his fine white shirt in tatters hanging from emaciated shoulders, a dark red line tracing around his neck; his once dark, sparkling eyes now pits of endless torment. He was bound and kneeling before the ghosts of Magellan’s mutineers.

“What is this, boy? What trickery be this?”

“As I did say, there is a price to be paid for your success, Captain, and ‘tis Thomas Doughtie who will pay the price. These Spanish ghosts are so full of envy and spite they will not allow the gentleman’s soul to be free; his spirit is chained and tormented cruelly by them. They abuse him and make sport of his beliefs. He is alone, friendless and forever lost to the grace of God. This is the future for your gentleman, Captain Drake. Forever. Even after you yourself have gone to your grave and sought your eternal reward, Thomas Doughtie will remain at Port St. Julian, a prisoner of these foul spirits.”

“Thomas,” Drake whispered to himself then looked at Antonio, but he made no further comment.

*********


The morning of June 30th dawned crisp and clear, a solid wind blew from the south west and the weak winter sun was not sufficient to drive the chill from the air. Antonio had returned Drake to his tent in the small hours of the morning and after the night’s revelations Drake was in a quandary: if he were to save his venture, he must make an example of Doughtie. When they had arrived at Port St. Julian he had been prepared to see Doughtie put to death; such was his anger at being opposed by the recalcitrant gentleman, but could he condemn any man to the eternal damnation that Antonio had foretold, let alone Thomas?

The makeshift court had been established on the beach; as Doughtie was brought forward Drake stood to address the assembly.

“Then let us begin. Thomas Doughtie, it is here alleged and attested that you have sought by diverse means, as much as you may, to discredit me to the great hindrance and overthrow of this voyage, besides other great matters wherewith I do charge you. The which, if you can clear yourself, you and I shall remain very good friends, where to the contrary, you deserve to die.

Each witness stepped forward in turn to give evidence and Antonio skittered nervously around the assembled men and followed the testimonies with concern. Drake had made no comment to him at the completion of the last evening’s revelations. Antonio had told Drake again of his nights spent watching and listening to the crew since they had arrived in Port St. Julian. Certainly Doughtie had been intemperate in his speeches, but there was nothing here, Antonio felt quite sure, that would warrant the man’s conviction, much less his death. But Drake had given no sign that he would forgive Doughtie his transgressions. Was he still determined to kill the gentleman? From time to time Drake looked across at the ghostly boy, but Antonio could read nothing in the Captain’s stern expression; the steely blue eyes appeared as cold and unforgiving as the waters of the Southern Sea.

Drake listened to the evidence without comment. Doughtie, as arrogant as ever the Captain noted, stood defiantly, showing no sign of discomfort.

When the all testimonies appeared to have been presented Thomas scoffed “If there is no better evidence than the gossip and hearsay that we have all been obliged to give ear to, let us abandon proceedings forthwith and return to our ships and warm food.” His remark was greeted by a positive affirmation by a good number of the assembled men. But there was one more witness who would speak.

“Nay, Thomas Doughtie, there is yet my testimony to be heard,” Ned Bright interjected and, with a look of pure hated towards the gentleman, began to read his prepared statement.

Thomas, who had made no objection to any previous evidence, was outraged by what he heard. “Lies!” he proclaimed and in his indignation he burst forth a tirade that included a confession that he had spoken with Lord Burghley of the voyage.

For the first time Drake’s face showed some emotion. Here was the evidence he had so hoped for, and from the gentleman’s own mouth: such sweet victory. Drake was both shocked and delighted at Doughtie’s admission, but he soon gathered his wits and addressed the jury.

“You have heard his confession, my masters. What is your verdict?”

Captain Wynter, as foreman, spoke for the empanelled men. “Good General, we do not think it meet that we should decide upon his life.”

“You do not have to decide on his life. Let me alone with that. You say whether he be guilty or not. That is all I charge you with.” Drake’s responded with impatience.

Leonard Vicarye, who had for some weeks held great fears for the safety of his friend, approached Drake. “There is, I trust, no question of death.”

“I say let me alone with that. All I want from you is your verdict. Now!” Drake demanded.

Knowing better than to try and argue with the Captain, the jury stepped away to consider the evidence. Drake and Doughtie both stood as still as statues, their eyes locked in a silent battle. Antonio moved to stand beside Thomas and looked piteously at Drake, his huge dark eyes beseeching him to show mercy but Drake looked only at Doughtie.

At length Wynter returned to where Drake stood. “You have a verdict, Captain Wynter?”

“Aye,” the foreman replied with the utmost reluctance.

“Guilty?”

“Aye, but only of misconduct; not mutiny nor treason; we have no faith in the evidence of Ned Bright,” Wynter hastened to add and prepared himself for a fiery rebuttal by the Captain General.

Drake merely nodded. “Come my masters,” he said and led the jury aside.

He had his evidence and he had his verdict; the gentleman was at his mercy. All the visions that Antonio had shown him surged through Drake’s mind: his glorious future balanced against Doughtie’s dire fate. How should he now proceed? Antonio had said Thomas loved him well and that his insubordinate behaviour had been born not of malice but of wounded pride. But could Drake believe this?

Drake made a long and impassioned speech to the jury exalting the voyage, its aims and its necessity, but also his belief in the Christian qualities of mercy and forgiveness and then abruptly turned and addressed Leonard Vicarye.

“Master Vicarye, thou arte the gentleman in our fleet most experienced in the law, what punishment think thee meet for Master Doughtie?”

Leonard Vicarye looked at Drake warily. Was this pretense? For weeks the Captain had railed against Thomas and threatened to have him hanged. Did he now truly want an outcome that would spare Doughtie’s life? Leonard considered for a time before replying:

“Confinement is in order, I think.” he began slowly, trying to gauge Drake’s reaction. Then, seeing this seemed to please him he continued. “And, perhaps some labouring… with the mariners ….so that he may better understand their wants and needs. Captain Wynter says there will be much work to be performed on the ships to ready them for the next part of the voyage, and the more hands there are to put to the tasks, the easier it will be for all. I propose that Master Doughtie work with the men on their daily tasks for the remainder of our time at this port.” Leonard hoped Thomas would forgive him for this.

Drake stood quite still and searched the faces of the men surrounding him. If he showed mercy would the men despise him or respect him? He could live without their friendship but he needed their loyalty if his venture was to succeed.

Respect, he thought, was that not the crux of the whole problem between he and Doughtie? Each thought the other lacking in proper respect. Drake made his decision.

“Verily, Master Vicarye, thou arte indeed a stout friend and gifted lawyer! We shall do just as thou hast proposed.”

Returning to a dumbfounded Thomas, Drake said “What say you Master Doughtie, be you agreeable to this? You may discuss it with your friends if you’ve a mind. ”

Thomas, who had for the first time realised that his life was in real peril, had been castigating himself for his undignified and intemperate outburst, but he was nevertheless inclined to argue the point that Drake truly had no commission to try him or to punish him. Vicarye and Wynter, however, appealed to him to agree; after all, his young brother was among the gentlemen of the fleet and could well be in grave danger if the feud were allowed to continue to a tragic end.

******


As the three English ships weighed anchor and left Port St. Julian after six weeks of preparation, only Drake could see the black shadow of the Victoria and her sullen crew watching with envy the little fleet’s departure. Drake waved his arm as he passed the ghostly ship. “Fare thee well, young Antonio, I pray that when my time does come I shall meet with thee anon!”

Antonio waved in response from his position high in the rigging, his clear, sweet voice called to Drake, “Goodbye good Captain, safe journey be yours. Take care of your gentleman for you will find no greater treasure on this earth than a true and loving heart!” He beamed a brilliant smile and with that he was gone; his efforts in saving Thomas had been sufficient for him to be forgiven for his sin of taking his own life and allowed him to escape the terrible bondage of Port St. Julian.

Drake looked across at Doughtie and smiled. This outcome did well suit the Captain’s many needs. The weeks of shared manual toil on the ships had had its effect on the gentleman, and both Doughtie and he had found a renewed sense of satisfaction in working together. Indeed, not only Doughtie had benefited, as all the gentlemen of the fleet had turned their hands to labour, as best they could, to show their full commitment to the venture. There was now, for the first time, complete harmony aboard the ships. What’s more, Drake realized, with the greatest of pleasure, that with the insight that young Antonio had provided, he would now safely enter the great Pacific with his fleet intact: 3 seaworthy ships and 3 willing crews. Just think of how much more plundered Spanish treasure he would be able to transport back to England in three ships instead of just one!


Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
entropy_house
Dec. 5th, 2009 01:12 pm (UTC)
Yay! Lovely! Mmm... a live puppie, and more money, who could ask for a better ending. :^)

And I love the illustration.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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