St. Augustine, Florida
~ 1687 ~
~ "I have sailed, sacked and drawn blood with the likes of Sir Henry Morgan and others from Portebelo to Maracaibo. Yes, and Puerto Principe, Cuba, Santa Catalina, and as God is my witness never have I encountered such stubborn folk as these accursed Spanish rodents of Saint Augustine."
Such were grumbled the words of the highly agitated and frustrated Captain Thaddeus Hawthorne Cane as he strutted about the aft castle deck of his ship the Jamaican Prince.
Three cannon on the deck below fired successively, spewing a heavy cloud of smoke that swept up, whirled past Cane then twisted into the shrouds. The tall robust Captain stood firm, not blinking an eye, savoring the smell of the spent powder as it mixed with the salty heat of late August. He impatiently glared at the fortress objective across the bay, the Castillo de San Marcos. Would this be the volley that would break their will, he wondered to himself as he watched one round fall short, striking just below the crest of the Castillo, lodging itself into the soft shell stone. The remaining two shots of his cannon, however, screamed over the top of the high thick coquina wall. From within the distant Castillo Cane could hear the screams of fear and desperation from the huddled population of the small Spanish town who took refuge there. Then another round of cannon shot exploded from the Alithea, the Jamaican Prince's sister ship anchored nearby in the bay. Again he watched and waited for a signal of surrender.
"Three long days. Day and night. Do these people have no sense? Are they so daft as to fail to hear and feel our guns?" complained Cane.
"Perhaps we should lay waste the town, Cap'n," suggested the Master Gunner from his station on the gun deck.
"I'll not destroy the thing we've come here for," Master Gunner Allen. "It's the very town we want. A most strategic base from which to plunder all Spanish trade. A place from which English ships and English soldiers can control all of the east of Florida."
"But have we not taken the town, sir."
"Eye we have, thanks in part to the fair share of the cowardly Spanish garrison fleeing into the woodlands. Indeed our men walk the streets this very hour. Yet I ask of you, what good be it then to have a town with no people? Would you have a cannon with no shot and powder? If so, would you be no more valuable or useful than a crab without legs?" laughed Captain Cane.
"Why then the haste, Cap'n." The town's people are hold up in their Castillo, our prisoners for sure, and just as surely to give way to our demands in due time."
"Aye, in due time, and most likely sooner than later, though it is not my haste, Master Gunner Allen, but more a matter of the wind," said Cane as he turned and pointed to the southeast. "Yonder, Master Gunner. See yonder from the southeast comes a storm and in front of said storm comes a Spanish fleet up from Cuba. Their journey hastened by a swift wind I'm sure and just as surely to arrive ahead of schedule. We shall need this Castillo and need its guns as well as those of all our ships to fend them off, else we risk certain peril."
As Captain Cane spoke a lone cannon fired from atop the Castillo. The ball whistled over their heads and splashed into the bay behind them to become just another failed effort by the novice townspeople working the gun in the absence of their cowardly garrison. The men aboard the Jamaican Prince burst into laughter until they saw Cane staring with concern to the south and the Sebastian River. They turned and looked to discover the third ship of their small fleet, the Tristram, sailing toward them. Commanded by Captain Hayward, the Tristram had been anchored near Matanzaz Inlet twelve miles down river at the far end of the barrier island where it was guarding that southern most approach to the town via the intercostal waterway. Captain Hayward desperately called to Cane with unsavory news as the Tristram glided in beside them.
"Spaniards!" he hailed to Cane and the company of the Jamaican Prince. "Spaniards! Two ships approaching from the south, entering at the inlet! Three others, galleons, rounding the island to close off the bay and our escape! Galleons, sir! Galleons of many guns!"
Upon hearing the news, Captain Cane rushed to the rail and ordered Captain Hayward to join with the Alithea then make haste north up the coast to the St. Johns River, there to find safe harbor from the approaching storm and avoid the Spanish fleet.
"We will do the same and join you after we gather our men from the town," cried out Captain Cane. "Should we fail to arrive in due time, sail then for Port Royal. God speed and be with you, Captain Hayward."
"And to you, Captain Cane," cried Hayward.
At that same moment the cannon atop the Castillo de San Marcos fired again and the round struck the water a mere few feet from the hull of the Jamaican Prince. The townspeople were improving their command of the gun, Cane concluded.
"Master Gunner Allen!" called Captain Cane without missing a beat of confidence.
"Aye Cap'n?" answered the gunner.
"Master Gunner, I want one round into the town to recall the ship's shore party and a final round to end the misadventures of that cursed gun atop that damnable fortress," ordered Cane.
"Aye, Cap'n," replied the smiling Master Gunner Allen. "I'll take that bloody gun out with one shot or by me mum's own blessed heart I'll be bringin' me self down to no more than a powder monkey, sir."
"Fair enough," smiled Captain Cane in return, a smile quickly lost when he again surveyed the distant sky to the southeast. He was not so much concerned about the approaching Spanish ships now as he was the weather. His Jamaican Prince was known throughout the Caribbean for its speed and could easily out run the bulky galleons. He was however concerned with what loomed on the horizon, growing and moving quickly, ignorant and uncaring of all manner of ships and men. Cane's many years in this part of the world caused him to know this well and know full well what it could do. It was a hurricane, the deadly curse of the warm waters of this part of the hemisphere, and it was moving faster than any storm he had ever seen, it's dark clouds reaching around the sea to the north like the huge monstrous tentacles of a hungry killer squid.
Allen's first shot landed dead center of the town and immediately Cane's men began heading for their boats. About that same time a hardy breeze rushed over the barrier island and across the bay catching the rigging of the Jamaican Prince and causing the ship to sway. This in no way hindered the talents of Master Gunner Allen however, as he and his gun crew sighted their weapon. Gunner Allen's smile returned as he gauged the sway of the ship.
"Right then, on the up-roll we'll do 'er, men!" he yelled, and at the height of the ship's upward pitch he laid his fire to the gun.
All eyes were on the Castillo as Allen's sure shot blasted the gun and it's haphazard crew to perdition.
Cane nodded approval then looked to the mouth of the bay where in the distance he could see the Tristram and the Alithea had safely cleared the inlet, entered into deeper open water and were turning north. He then looked to the town where he saw his ships company boarding their boats and hastily rowing for the Jamaican Prince. Behind them members of St. Augustine's Spanish garrison began filtering back into the town and rushing to the safety of the Castillo.
"Ready all guns, Mister. Allen," Cane called down to the deck.
Allen looked up with concern, knowing well that Cane only called him Mister Allen when there was serious business ahead.
"Ready all guns!" repeated the Master Gunner to his gun crews. He then leaned over the ship's rail and looked across the bay to see the returning Spanish Garrison entering the Castillo and realized they were sure to be far better gunners and far more accurate with the fort's remaining cannons than the townspeople before them. Serious business indeed, he thought.
Cane looked back to the south where he saw the two approaching Spanish ships. "Mister Englehart!" he called to his first mate.
"Get the men aloft and to all stations as quickly as they come aboard! I need sail, Mister Englehart and I need it swiftly!"
"Aye, sir," replied Englehart, locking eyes with his concerned Captain.
"The gates of hell are about to open Mister Englehart and may God help us," stated Cane as he looked toward the storm.
Englehart turned and looked at the distant storm then to the two Spanish ships approaching from down river. Turning to the ships crew as they climbed aboard he yelled, "Quickly there, men! Get your souls aloft, make sail and then make peace with your god whatever he be for this day may yet be the devil's own and our very last."
The first crewman to climb and reach the top of the mainsail looked across the bay and over the island opposite the Castillo and town where he came to see out to sea a monster storm rushing for the mainland. Riding before the storm, in full sail, raced three Spanish Galleons soon to reach the inlet channel to the bay and St. Augustine, and sure to cut off and confront the Jamaican Prince. The trap would not only submit Captain Cane and his company to the merciless guns of the incoming fleet but the large cannons of the Castillo as well, now in the more capable hands of the returning garrison.
"Ships approaching the channel!" he cried down to the Captain.
"What are their number?" shouted Cane, looking up to the heights of the mainmast.
"Three, Cap'n!" replied the crewman. "Three big gunners, sir!"
"Mister Allen!" called out Captain Cane.
"When we come about for the inlet channel," he pointed, "I want a full starboard volley on those ships there approaching at the edge of the town from the south river. Then after we come about let lose the entire port side guns on the fortress. And reload quickly Mister Allen. We have company waiting at the far side of the channel and little time for pleasantries."
"Aye, sir. Consider it done, sir," replied the Master Gunner. Allen then turned to address his gun crews to strike up their collective heartbeat. "You were born of a gun you salty bastards, drinkin' black powdered rum 'stead of mother's milk. Yer soul is a barnacled marvel of myst'ry and yer heart long lost to a witch of the sea. Fightin' men says I! Fightin' men are we!"
"Fightin' men! Aye!" rose the feverish echo of the men of his gun crews. "Fightin' men are we!"
"All starboard guns to the ready!" ordered Gunner Allen as his cannon crews hustled about preparing their guns.
The two Spanish ships filed up the river then spread and sailed abreast each other as they aproached the town and entered the narrow bay. Their strategy was to attack the Jamaican Prince from both sides and blast her into the depths. At that same moment the Jamaican Prince began her turn. Captain Cane would need the better part of the small bay to come about, all the while knowing the ship would not be out of the deadly range of the guns of the Castillo, and possibly even become trapped between the fortress and the fast approaching Spanish. Allen's gunners were their only hope to get out of the bay and escape into broader safer water.
Bringing his ship about Cane gave his gunner the order. "When ready, Mister Allen!"
Allen gauged his targets, picking an angle that brought both the Spanish ships into the line of fire.
"From for'd to aft on my command, men. Hold. Hold. Now FIRE!" yelled Allen.
The forward most gun fired first followed successively by the others with most shots finding their target. The two Spanish ships bore off, struck and wounded but not defeated. They began taking in sail, obviously anticipating trapping the Jamaican Prince in the bay where their galleons would enter the channel around the north end of the island to close the trap.
As the Jamaican Prince continued her turn Cane could see the busy garrison atop the fortress running up their four large guns. Anxious but steady, Captain Cane called down to the gun deck, "First to strike would do nicely, Mister Allen."
"Aye, sir," replied Allen.
As the Master Gunner plotted his assault, Captain Cane rushed to the wheel to help the struggling helmsman. The wind was beginning to gust and the water was getting rough. Cane was growing concerned that they would be unable to beat the exceptionally fast moving storm to the shelter of the St. Johns. Studying the distant sky, he was beginning to think it unlikely they would even be able to reach the deeper sea before the galleons entered the inlet ahead of them.
"FIRE!" came the Master Gunner's order over the sound of the rising wind through the rigging.
Again the guns of the Jamaican Prince exploded in a smoky fury. Atop the Castillo men screamed as they fell to the wrathful impact of Allen's accurate guns. He had done well. All the big guns of the fortress had been hit but one, leaving a single surviving gun crew atop the Castillo who now scurried to recover, set and fire again.
"I count one gun coming on us, Cap'n!" warned Englehart as he studied the activity on the fort through a telescope.
"Eye, one too many," replied Cane.
The sky clouded over becoming a dull gray and though they had the blessing of the tide, a whipping rain and robust wind had begun and was working against them. The Jamaican Prince had made its full turn and was heading for the channel and the freedom of the open sea beyond. Just the same Cane was a well wary and seasoned Captain who took nothing for granted. He knew quite well the dangers and destructive power of the three galleons rounding the far side of the island, and of course the dangers of the storm, that untimely curse of a storm. To turn back and drop anchor in the safe harbor of the small bay might save the ship from the storm but most assuredly would result in a death sentence for him and his crew at the hands of the Spanish. An alternative neither he nor his crew would accept. Their only chance, he concluded, was to reach deep water and run before the storm, to use it to escape and let it push them north to the St. Johns or at worst to beach the Jamaican Prince further up the coast and away from the enemy. There they could escape across land to the refuge of their other ships.
Just as Cane turned back for a last glance at his lost prize there came a final cannon blast from the top of the Castillo. The black ball ripped through some of the ships sail, bringing down a yardarm and a portion of rigging on the starboard side. It crashed into the water, dragged along the side of the ship, and when cut free by the crew, some of the tangled line caught on the Jamaican Prince's rudder. Though it was still possible to steer it was extremely difficult and became even more so as the fouled debris extended and dragged the bottom of the channel.
Distant cannon fire drew his attention and Cane looked out to discover the three galleons fast approaching the north end of the island. The ships were out of range and firing only a warning to demand his surrender. Cane could only laugh as he looked up to his sails, hoping to sail clear of the inlet before the wind would do to them what he knew the Spanish could not. He could see now the Spanish were too far distant to be a threat but he could also see the rising rough white surf pounding the beach of the island. Further off shore an even rougher rising sea was following. In short order the galleons began having difficulty and started adjusting sail in an effort to fight the wind and avoid being beached or even sunk. They were no longer a threat to Captain Cane and the Jamaican Prince, now they were only sailors in peril, struggling and facing a storm the likes of which he had never seen. A storm moving swiftly with increasing sustained winds and powerful gusts that played with the Spanish ships and crews as though they were merely floating toys.
The fast changing wind, the fouled rigging beneath the ship and the oncoming tidal surge suspended the Jamaican Prince in the channel of the inlet between the open sea and the bay. As she floundered the crew began to look to the shore in anticipation of running aground. Cane squinted to see through the driving rain and caught a glimpse of the largest of the three galleons. She was top heavy by design and made even more so by exceeding her limit of deck guns. The storm had come upon her so quickly that her crew had little or no time to compensate and take in enough sail. The ship now surrendered to the merciless weather. The uncompromising wind forced the galleon to lay aside until finally it rolled her over and pushed her toward the beach. Cane knew the grinding surf would break her up, tossing her crew and cargo at will. When he looked back to the other galleons he discovered there remained only one and assumed the other had already capsized and surrendered to the raging sea. He watched as the final galleon was thrown helplessly about, being drastically raised and lowered by the frenzied massive off-shore waves rushing toward the mainland. It was at that moment he viewed a sampling of the truly awesome power of the storm when a spiraling gust of wind blew down across the Spanish ship and literally tore away all three of her masts and full rigging, sending the debris careening wildly through the sky and over the island. The flailing sea then rolled the ship repeatedly until it ran aground with a broken back and breached hull. Though Cane couldn't hear the desperate cries of the Spanish seaman above the sound of the storm he could certainly imagine them as they all most assuredly met their death.
When the ominous storm overcame the Jamaican Prince the crew came to accept their fate. In the punishing rain and ripping wind some crewmen simply held tight to various parts of the ship while others knelt and prayed. Master Gunner Allen held to one of his guns with one hand and looked up to his Captain on the aft castle with a smile and a farewell salute with the other. He then suddenly disappeared when a huge wave crashed over the deck.
Captain Cane stood firm at the wheel as he watched his men and ship surrender to the storm. But for fate and want of a few minutes, he thought, they might have cleared the inlet, reached deeper water and run before the storm. But then again no, he concluded, not this storm, not this devil sent hellish fury. As he resolved himself to losing both his ship and his life, Captain Thaddeus Hawthorne Cane looked to the sky where he thought for a brief moment he saw a broad bright flash of light and a large bird, a bird seeming to be somehow unaffected by the storm and oblivious to the wind. Suddenly his ship lurched and twisted, it's sails ripping and careening off into the darkening sky. Her lines snapping in the wind like bullwhips, and her rigging pulling apart and disappearing into the rain. A massive whirlwind engulfed the entire Jamaican Prince, spinning it counter clockwise, literally lifting it out of the water. The scene and the sensation were overwhelming as Cane's mind raced through ships and ports and people he had long forgotten. How long this phenomenon took place he wasn't sure, for now he was beyond himself and not even sure if he was still of this world. Then, just as suddenly as it was torn from the water, the ship was slammed down and imbedded deeply into a sand bar, breaking and breaching its hull, its sails and mast torn away along with most of the crew. Cane was thrown to the deck, striking his head. Everything around him slowed to a surreal vision of destruction and death. He saw once again a great flash of light just before his mind went black, just before he was swept away by an angry, violent, unforgiving sea.
~ 1 ~
St. Augustine, Florida
~ 1957 ~
| ~ The gentle breeze born with the sunrise carried the sounds of surf and shore birds across the broad beach of Anastasia Island. A formation of pelicans soared just inches above the waves framed against a golden sun in the horizon. In the tall dunes the sounds faded to a whispering of the wind through swaying sea oats to eventually be overcome by an exotic mysterious chanting. There amidst the shadowed white sand dunes a small fire burned warming the silhouetted figure of a lamenting old Indian in strange regalia. He drew a circle in the sand with a stick leaving an opening that faced the rising sun then stood within the circle, spread his arms and ceased the chant. Strangely an eerie silence blanketed the island. The wind died, the high grasses and sea oats ceased their swaying dance. There was no movement, no sound. Even the hundreds of feeding shorebirds came to sit on the sand near a now waveless ocean.
The old Indian eventually broke the silence with an unsteady voice, "I am the last guardian of the gate," he said with great sorrow. "There is no other."
He withdrew from his waist a gold medallion mounted on a short carved wooden staff and reverently raised it to the rising sun.
"I go the way of the panther and the bear and the great thunderbird. I have lost the land. I have failed the old ones."
He kneeled and his trembling hands brought the disk down and placed it on the sand to complete the circle. His eyes filled with tears.
"The gate must be closed... forever," he cried. "I must be no more. I must join my fathers."
As his hands moved away a sudden gust of wind shifted the sand near the medallion. The fire sparked wildly and a loud shriek cut into the silence. Surprised, he rose and looked to the sky as the wind threw aside his long gray hair. He gasped and looked up to discover a great hawk soaring out of the sun then turn and dive toward him extending it's talons, it's eyes a strange glowing red. The old Indian fell to his knees and shielded his face from the approaching hawk as it shrieked past him, captured the medallion and took flight. Looking up in amazement he saw the hawk launch into the sky, rise, shriek, then release the medallion, which fell, flickering and flashing in the early morning sunlight. The medallion descended and gave off a final bright flash of light as it splashed into the sea. The shore birds suddenly rose in a concert of sound as the surf, the wind and the island came alive again all around him. He rushed to a high dune and stood in the fresh wind. Again the hawk shrieked. He looked to the hawk then to the sea and the rising sun. His spirit was renewed and his eyes brightened with enthusiasm.
"There is another," he cried with joy. "There is another with the heart of an old one!"