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Authors: Wilbur Smith

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BOOK: Birds of Prey
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The Governor’s sugar-coated lips pouted with satisfaction. He was fully aware of his wife’s interest in the dashing colonel. He had been married to her for only a few years, and yet
he knew for a certainty that she had taken at least eighteen lovers in that time, some for only an hour or an evening.

Her maid, Zelda, was in the pay of van de Velde and reported to him each of her mistress’s adventures, taking a deep vicarious pleasure in relating every salacious detail.

When van de Velde had first become aware of Katinka’s carnal appetite, he had been outraged. However, his initial furious remonstrations had had no effect upon her and he learned swiftly
that over her he had no control. He could neither protest too much nor send her away for on the one hand he was besotted by her, and on the other her father was too rich and powerful. The
advancement of his own fortune and status depended almost entirely upon her. In the end his only course of action had been, as far as possible, to keep temptation and opportunity from her. During
this voyage he had succeeded in keeping her a virtual prisoner in her quarters, and he was sure that, had he not done so, his wife would have already sampled the colonel’s wares, which were
ostentatiously on display. With him sent off the ship, her choice of diversion would be severely curtailed and, after a prolonged fast, she might even become amenable to his own sweaty

‘Very well,’ Sir Francis agreed, ‘I will send Colonel Schreuder as your emissary.’ He turned the page of the almanac on the desk in front of him. ‘With fair winds,
and by the grace of Almighty God, the round trip from the Cape to Holland and back here to the rendezvous should not occupy more than eight months. We can hope that you might be free to take up
your duties at the Cape by Christmas.’

‘Where will you keep us until the ransom is received? My wife is a lady of quality and delicate disposition.’

‘In a safe place, and in comfort. That I assure you, sir.’

‘Where will you meet the ship returning with our ransom monies?’

‘At thirty-three degrees south latitude and four degrees thirty minutes east.’

‘Where, pray, might that be?’

‘Why, Governor van de Velde, at the very spot upon the ocean where we are at this moment.’ Sir Francis would not be tricked so readily into revealing the whereabouts of his base.

n a misty dawn the galleon dropped anchor in the gentler waters behind a rocky headland of the African coast. The wind had dropped and begun to
veer. The end of the summer season was at hand; they were fast approaching the autumnal equinox. The
Lady Edwina
, her pumps pounding ceaselessly, came alongside and, with fenders of matted
oakum between the hulls, she made fast to the larger vessel.

At once the work of clearing her out began. Blocks and tackle had already been rigged from the galleon’s yards. They took out the guns first. The great bronze barrels on their trains were
swayed aloft. Thirty seamen walked away with the tackle and then lowered each culverin to the galleon’s deck. Once these guns were sited, the galleon would have the firepower of a ship of the
line and would be able to attack any Company galleon on better than equal terms.

Watching the cannon come on board, Sir Francis realized that he now had the force to launch a raid on any of the Dutch trading harbours in the Indies. This capture of the
was only a beginning. From here he planned to become the terror of the Dutch in the Ocean of the Indies, just as Sir Francis Drake had scourged the Spanish on their own main in the previous

Now the powder kegs were lifted out of the caravel’s magazine. Few remained filled after such a long cruise and the heavy actions she had fought. However, the galleon still carried almost
two tons of excellent quality gunpowder, sufficient to fight a dozen battles, or to capture a rich Dutch entrepôt on the Trincomalee or Javanese coast.

When the furniture and stores had been brought across, water casks and weapons chests, brine barrels of pickled meats, bread bags and barrels of flour, the pinnaces were also hoisted aboard and
broken down by the carpenters. They were stowed away in the galleon’s main cargo hold on top of the stacks of rare oriental timbers. So bulky were they and so heavily laden with her own cargo
was the galleon that to accommodate their bulk the hatch coamings had to be left off the main holds until the prize was taken into Sir Francis’s secret base.

Stripped to her planks, the
Lady Edwina
rode high in the water when Colonel Schreuder and the released Dutch crew were ready to board her. Sir Francis summoned the colonel to the
quarterdeck and handed him back his sword and the letter addressed to the Council of the Dutch East India Company in Amsterdam. It was stitched in a canvas cover, the seams sealed with red wax, and
tied with ribbon. It made an impressive bundle, which Colonel Schreuder placed firmly under his arm.

‘I hope we meet again, Mijnheer,’ Schreuder said ominously to Sir Francis.

‘In eight months from now I will be at the rendezvous,’ Sir Francis assured. ‘Then I shall be delighted to see you again, as long as you have the two hundred thousand gold
guilders for me.’

‘You miss my meaning,’ said Cornelius Schreuder grimly.

‘I assure you I do not,’ responded Sir Francis quietly.

Then the colonel looked to the break in the poop where Katinka van de Velde stood at her husband’s side. The deep bow that he made towards them and the look of longing in his eyes were not
for the Governor alone. ‘I shall return with all haste to end your suffering,’ he told them.

‘God be with you,’ said the Governor. ‘Our fate is in your hands.’

‘You will be assured of my deepest gratitude on your return, my dear Colonel,’ Katinka whispered, in a breathless little girl’s voice, and the colonel shivered as though a
bucket of icy water had been poured down his back. He drew himself to his full height, saluted her, then turned and strode to the galleon’s rail.

Hal was waiting at the port with Aboli and Big Daniel. The colonel’s eyes narrowed and he stopped in front of Hal and twirled his moustache. The ribbons on his coat fluttered in the
breeze, and the sash of his rank shimmered as he touched the sword at his side.

‘We were interrupted, boy,’ he said softly, in good unaccented English. ‘However, there will be a time and a place for me to finish the lesson.’

‘Let us hope so, sir.’ Hal was brave with Aboli at his side. ‘I am always grateful for instruction.’

For a moment they held each other’s eyes, and then Schreuder dropped over the galleon’s side to the deck of the caravel. Immediately the lines were cast off and the Dutch crew set
the sails. The
Lady Edwina
threw up her stern like a skittish colt and heeled to the press of her canvas. Lightly she turned away from the land to make her offing.

‘We also will get under way, if you please, Master Ned!’ Sir Francis said. ‘Up with her anchor.’

The galleon bore away from the African coast, heading into the south. From the masthead where Hal crouched the
Lady Edwina
was still in plain view. The smaller vessel was standing out to
clear the treacherous shoals of the Agulhas Cape, before coming around to run before the wind down to the Dutch fort below the great table-topped mountain that guarded the south-western extremity
of the African continent.

As Hal watched, the silhouette of the caravel’s sails altered drastically. He leaned out and shouted down, ‘The
Lady Edwina
is altering course.’

‘Where away?’ his father yelled back.

‘She’s running free,’ Hal told him. ‘Her new course looks to be due west.’

She was doing precisely what they expected of her. With the sou’-easter well abaft her beam, she was now heading directly for Good Hope.

‘Keep her under your eye.’

As Hal watched her, the caravel dwindled in size until her white sails merged with the tossing manes of the wind-driven white horses on the horizon.

‘She’s gone!’ he shouted at the quarterdeck. ‘Out of sight from here!’

Sir Francis had waited for this moment before he brought the galleon around onto her true heading. Now he gave the orders to the helm that brought her around towards the east, and she went back
on a broad reach parallel with the African coast. ‘This seems to be her best point of sailing,’ he said to Hal, as his son came down to the deck after being relieved at the masthead.
‘Even with her jury-rigging, she’s showing a good turn of speed. We must get to know the whims and caprice of our new mistress. Make a cast of the log, please.’

With the glass in hand, Hal timed the wooden log on its reel, dropped from the bows on its journey back along the hull until it reached the stern. He made a quick calculation on the slate, and
then looked up at his father. ‘Six knots through the water.’

‘With a new mainmast she will be good for ten. Ned Tyler has found a spar of good Norwegian pine stowed away in her hold. We will step it as soon as we get into port.’ Sir Francis
looked delighted: God was smiling upon them. ‘Assemble the ship’s company. We will ask God’s blessing on her and rename her.’

They stood bare-headed in the wind, clutching their caps to their breasts, their expressions as pious as they could muster, anxious not to attract the disfavour of Sir Francis.

‘We thank you, Almighty God, for the victory you have granted us over the heretic and the apostate, the benighted followers of the son of Satan, Martin Luther.’

‘Amen!’ they cried loudly. They were all good Anglicans, apart from the black tribesmen among them, but these Negroes cried, ‘Amen!’ with the rest. They had learned that
word their first day aboard Sir Francis’s ship.

‘We thank you also for your timely and merciful intervention in the midst of the battle and your deliverance of us from certain defeat—’

Hal shuffled in disagreement, but without looking up. Some of the credit for the timely intervention was his, and his father had not acknowledged this as openly.

‘We thank you and praise your name for placing in our hands this fine ship. We give you our solemn oath that we will use her to bring humiliation and punishment upon your enemies. We ask
your blessing upon her. We beg you to look kindly upon her, and to sanction the new name which we now give her. From henceforth she will become the

His father had simply translated the galleon’s Dutch name, and Hal was saddened that this ship would not bear his mother’s name. He wondered if his father’s memory of his
mother was at last fading, or if he had some other reason for no longer perpetuating her memory. He knew, though, that he would never have the courage to ask, and he must simply accept this

‘We ask your continued help and intervention in our endless battle against the godless. We thank you humbly for the rewards you have so bountifully heaped upon us. And we trust that if we
prove worthy you will reward our worship and sacrifice with further proof of the love you bear us.’

This was a perfectly reasonable sentiment, one with which every man on board, true Christian or pagan, could be in full accord. Every man devoted to God’s work on earth was entitled to his
rewards, and not only in the life to come. The treasures that filled the
holds were proof and tangible evidence of his approval and consideration towards them.

‘Now let’s have a cheer for
and all who sail in her.’

They cheered until they were hoarse, and Sir Francis silenced them at last. He replaced his broad-brimmed hat and gestured for them to cover their heads. His expression became stern and
forbidding. ‘There is one more task we have to perform now,’ he told them, and looked at Big Daniel. ‘Bring the prisoners on deck, Master Daniel.’

Sam Bowles was at the head of the forlorn file that came up from the hold, blinking in the sunlight. They were led aft and forced to kneel, facing the ship’s company.

Sir Francis read their names from the sheet of parchment he held up. ‘Samuel Bowles. Edward Broom. Peter Law. Peter Miller. John Tate. You kneel before your shipmates accused of cowardice
and desertion in the face of the enemy, and dereliction of your duty.’

The other men growled and glared at them.

‘How say you to these charges? Are you the cowards and traitors we accuse you of being?’

‘Mercy, your grace. It was a madness of the moment. Truly we repent. Forgive us, we beg you for the sakes of our wives and the sweet babes we left at home,’ Sam Bowles pleaded as
their spokesman.

‘The only wives you ever had were the trulls in the bawdy houses of Dock Street,’ Big Daniel mocked him, and the crew roared.

‘String them up at the yard-arm! Let’s watch them dance a little jig to the devil.’

‘Shame on you!’ Sir Francis stopped them. ‘What kind of English justice is this? Every man, no matter how base, is entitled to a fair trial.’ They sobered and he went on.
‘We will deal with this matter in proper order. Who brings these charges against them?’

‘We do!’ roared the crew in unison.

‘Who are your witnesses?’

‘We are!’ they replied, with a single voice.

‘Did you witness any act of treachery or cowardice? Did you see these foul creatures flee from the fight and leave their shipmates to their fate?’

‘We did.’

‘You have heard the testimony against you. Do you have aught to say in your defence?’

‘Mercy!’ whined Sam Bowles. The others were dumb.

Sir Francis turned back to the crew. ‘And so what is your verdict?’


‘Guilty as hell!’ added Big Daniel, lest there be any lingering doubts.

‘And your sentence?’ Sir Francis asked, and immediately an uproar broke out.

‘Hang ’em.’

‘Hanging’s too good for the swine. Keel haul ’em.’

‘No! No! Draw and quarter ’em. Make them eat their own balls.’

‘Let’s fry some pork! Burn the bastards at the stake.’

Sir Francis silenced them again. ‘I see we have some differences of opinion.’ He gestured to Big Daniel. ‘Take them down below and lock them up. Let them stew in their own
stinking juices for a day or two. We will deal with them when we get into port. Until then there are more important matters to attend to.’

BOOK: Birds of Prey
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