Paying The Piper

GM-Cvr6

Excerpt: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar

 

Cassine, Ile de la Tortue, 1712

In anticipation of riches plundered from both the settlement and Chateau Verettes, LaFavre had the buccaneers who remained in camp at Cassine prepare a feast and celebration that would last into the night. Unfortunately, the celebration was over before it ever began. It was easily seen in the manner and expression of the first combatants to come ashore, that things had not gone well on the mainland.  The disaster at Port Mara and the chateau had left little cause for celebration and even less desire. Instead, the mood and air of the camp was filled with tension that created a dangerous quiet around the fires in the evening. Though no one had died and few had been but mildly wounded, there was little plunder to be divided among them, or to pay the buccaneers who had signed on as mercenaries. Now they would have to be paid out of the fleet’s reserves. That, or, in Teach’s way of thinking, they would have to fight for it, a solution that would not be accomplished without heavy losses on both sides.

Jean Paul LaFavre was an odorous man of few words to begin with and was clearly on edge when he joined the Brethren at their circle around the fire this night. He’d come from a lengthy meeting of the buccaneer leadership, already angry at the prospect of his men not being paid for their work. LeFavre worried about the possible consequences of a confrontation between his buccaneers and the pirate crews, as did Henri and Teach. Considering the loose order of the camp and his own advanced age, he was not sure that his tenuous hold on power was strong enough to restrain his men from foolish provocation.

On the other hand, Teach was concerned about what might be demanded of him. It was one thing to split plunder among a crew of men he lived with every day, but he’d never been confronted with a situation this volatile. He wished he had never been saddled with the mercenary arrangement that Henri had agreed to before his arrival. In truth, even if the buccaneers had agreed to shares, there was no significant plunder to be divided among such a large number of men. Only a small bag of silver coin taken from the fortress and some insignificant jewelry recovered from the settlement. He’d already heard the grumbling among the buccaneers and he’d no confidence in the elder LFavre as their leader. To make matters worse, he was on their turf, outnumbered and, if it came to a fight, they held an advantage also in knowledge of the terrain. These were the very reasons he’d ordered most of his own men to remain aboard ship, anticipating that he might have to make a run for it.

Collin sat among the small group of leaders around the central fire, between Teach and LeFarve. He’d already consumed enough rum to dull the pain in his head and to snuff the odor of onion and garlic that permeated his proximity to LaFavre, but not enough to prevent him from sensing the silent tension that consumed the circle. Out of his own discomfort and, in an attempt to assuage the bitterness and to rationalize the massacre in his own mind, he lifted up the half full bottle in his hand, so that all could see and, smiling, said, “To freedom. That all men should be free.”

Then he tilted the bottle to his lips, took a long pull and handed the bottle to LeFavre who lifted it up and shouted, “Liberte’!”, before tipping the bottle himself and passing it along so that everyone drank before it came once again to Collin. Following that, they all sat quietly for a time, gazing into the fire, deep in thought, each man with his own, personal understanding of what was meant by the ritual.

“To Caesar!” Collin shouted, once again lifting the bottle, acknowledging Henri.

“Hail Caesar!” Teach shouted, the others joined in agreement, though some agreed less than others. The bottle passed again around the fire. When it returned to Collin, understanding clearly the dilemma that threatened them all, he turned to LeFavre saying, “We freed a lot of people today at little cost to ourselves. How then shall we settle accounts?”

LeFavre was caught off guard and hesitated for a long moment. Then, forcing a grin, said, “We all value freedom, as you do my friend, but my men must be paid.”

“And what price is asked for freedom?” Collin dared to inquire, taking another swig from the bottle.

These buccaneers, mostly Huguenots, were not common rabble, no matter their appearance or how badly they might smell, or what the king, or his monopoly might say of them. They were men of character and principle who well knew the cost of liberty, and none, including LeFavre, were willing to devalue the privilege of freedom by putting a price on it. He looked to his men around the fire as he said, “We must be compensated a fair price for the camp and for supplying the ships with water, boucan and sharing our crops, our women and our supplies.”

“Done!” Henri agreed without consulting the Brethren. He nodded to them with a broad grin.

LeFavre again looked to his men around the fire for their approval. They seemed to be urging him to something more. Collin had the distinct sense it was something specific that they had already discussed among themselves. LeFavre reached for the bottle in Collin’s hand. He lifted it up and took another swig of courage then handed it back. For a long moment he twirled a stick through the ashes at the edge of the fire and then, turning to Teach, said, “We have need of a ship. You have many. We would ask you to offer one of them to us. The fluyt will serve us, if you can spare it.”

Revenge?” Teach inquired, stunned by the request.

LeFavre said nothing, but waited for an answer. He had asked politely and would humble himself no further.

“It seems a fair request.” Israel suggested in the hope of resolving the situation.

Teach shot him a hateful glare.

“It is fair.” Collin agreed. “For these men, who have served our purpose so well, a ship is the difference between bare survival and a thriving community.”

“I think we can afford to let her go.” Henri allowed. “We are certain to take another prize.”

Now Teach’s glare settled on Henri. His eyes glazed over and he began to blink, a slow, rhythmic opening and closing of the eyes that Collin had seen before, when rage was rising in Teach’s heart.

“It will be for us to remain free, Barbe-noire.” LeFavre allowed.

“Come now, Teach. You can’t sail two ships. She’s as much mine as yours anyway and I’m agreeable.” Collin said, smiling, in an attempt to defuse Teach’s explosive temper.

Teach did not return his smile. Instead, he kicked angrily at the fire. Burning embers scattered over the men sitting across from him. Sparks and firebrands flew upward into the night sky and showered down over the rest of them. Then he stood, glaring at each of them in turn, lit by flames that glittered and danced, reflecting in his angry eyes. Smoke began to pour out of the long, dreadlocks that framed his dark face, as if flowing from his ears. It enveloped his head in a swirling, demonic halo. Several of the men at the fire, pointed at him, then jumped to their feet and retreated crying, “Diable!”

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