Amandi is the name given me by my mother and the name of my heart. The meaning can be “beautiful reader” or “free man.” Charles is the name assigned me by the man who once felt he owned me, and the name used by most. A poor joke? Charles is a name of kings, and it too means “free man.” Perhaps an omen? When the one who felt he owned me met the Baron Samedi, he was heir-less and alone. His will released his captives. So, free by name, free in heart and freed by Law, I left Haiti to seek my fortune, to find those few Europeans who could respect one such as I. To the Bahamas I went, assured that in the port of Nassau I would find men of all shades living and working side by side.
Here I met my companions: Bill Carson, Pierre Du Champs and Cooper von Cooper owned shares in a small ship and shared the duties of Captain and Pilot. The three were the first who did not laugh in my face when I spoke of my desire to become a man on rank aboard ship. Indeed, once I had demonstrated my knowledge of knots, letters and goods, along with my size and strength, they agreed I had the makings of a fine sailor. The ship’s hull was seaworthy, but that was about all it had in it’s favor. It’s owners hadn’t even bothered to name her.
I was introduced to the other stakeholders in their venture - Blasius Romanu, Hoyles Guyot and Dan Wildmoon - and the rest of the motley crew of sailors and a small company of ruffians Carson charitably called “Marines.” They were corrupt, unruly men. Disordered, distrustful and resentful. Yet, we were due to depart soon - Carson had knowledge of a shipwreck off the coast of a nearby island, and it was felt the hulk would have equipment and material to improve our own vessel. Before setting sail we did what we could to improve our lot. Despite my ambitions towards Master of Guns, my skills as a merchant were put to use to secure provisions. Here, the loa Oshun guided my hand. Romanu was given the task of readying the ship’s cannon - a task beyond his abilities.
Sails west, we left Nassau. The island had not yet vanished below the horizon before a galleon cut into our wake. Barranquilla pyrates. It was clear we were outmatched, and were shortly in a fight for our lives. We turned for the shallows as the pursuing pyrates began their barrages. Wildmoon was caught in the first blast to impact our rail, and shards of wood lodged deep in his chest. Cooper and Du Champs slid empty barrel across the deck as some small measure of protection and barked orders from within. Our ship came to near-foundering as it entered the shallows, and the pyrates swarmed across our rails. Du Champs left from his barrel and formed up with Carson in an attempt to down the pyrate’s leader. They both failed in their attempts to slay the man, and Carson fell overboard with a hilt protruding from his shoulder. Below decks I could hear Guyot encouraging our sparse gunners to aim, point blank at the pyrate’s waterline. The ship lurched, and, moments later smoke began to rise from the hold. I made my way below decks to assist, but, as I left the sun-dappled deck for the darkness below I stumbled on the ladder and fell into the powder stores. A barrel broke free of it’s straps and rolled into where a small fire flickered. The ensuing explosion blew a ten foot section from the hull - fortunately both above the waterline, unfortunately on the side facing the pyrate vessel. More pyrates swarmed through the gap, and I snatched up a cutlass to defend. I had never held a sword before, but the skill came naturally to me. A figure-8 of blurred steel kept the pyrates at bay and allowed Guyot to strike down and bind the leader of the boarding party. There was smoke and confusion and an end to the battle. Romanu led men to cut free the pyrate’s grapples then leapt to spin the ship’s wheel madly. His actions caught the wind and our ship shuddered as her sails snapped taut. Meanwhile Du Champs slew the leader of the pyrates on the main deck. The foe had had enough and jumped for their own vessel before it fell behind our own.
After the battle, Romanu grinned madly, displaying the new gap where one of his teeth had been knocked from his jaw during the melee. Unseen, Carson had managed to climb back aboard our ship and was found later, bleeding in a barrel on the deck. Cooper was distraught. Carson’s blood had soaked through and ruined a sheaf of papers within. It was the same barrel which Cooper had used for shelter during the fight, and the papers were the contracts between Cooper’s father and the coopers of Nassau. Cooper was from a family of coopers and the ruined documents represented a considerable portion of the family’s wealth. The unrepentant Carson laughed and dubbed Cooper “FIVE” after the “V” sigil the Coopers used on their wares. It was discovered the explosion in the hold has ruined most of our fresh water, and many of the soldiers grew ill from drinking the tainted remnants.
We weighed anchor near Stanliard Creek to attempt repair and resupply. I led a party up and down the coast to update our charts - and teach the men to be less unruly. In my absence Guyot failed to recruit sailors and soldiers from the local gangs, but Cooper’s stealthy nighttime raids of local warehouses replenished our water. Our other two “co-Captains” had different views on how to forge their crew into an effective unit. Du Champs favored holding the sailors aboard until they swore loyalty to the ship while Carson favored renting a dry stable in which to billet our fighting men, and let them come and go as they please. Showing the carrot to one group while beating the other with the stick shouldn’t have worked, yet, by the time I had returned, the men were more docile, had shaken off all illness, and had even learned better how to work the cannonade. At least most of the men’s attitudes had changed. Wildmoon’s attempts to patch our hull were slapdash at best, while Romanu tried to inspire the men to give over eating of meat and drinking of rum in favor of a diet of vegetables and ground minerals. “This is why your teeth are weak!” the sailors mocked. Romanu took the teasing with ill humor and took to doing his duties in silence, and avoiding others during mealtimes.
Carson worried that too much delay would cost us our quarry, and we set off for Andros Town. We fell in with a stout and well armed Dutch merchant vessel traveling the same way. Du Champs noted that any merchant so well armed must be carrying valuable items and suggested we follow the merchants ashore, wait until their cargo was shifted into warehouses, then steal the keys from their officers. We accosted them near the tavern. The merchant officers were no soft weaklings and my companions found themselves hard pressed in return. WIldmoon and I felled our opponents - I came away with the key-rig, Wildmoon a purse of coins, but the rest of our band were forced to defend their lives - and Guyot actually turned and fled! I secured out escape with a grenade I’d taken during the earlier pyrate assault, but not without a price. The burn scars across my back cover the old marks from the lash.
The fight was all for nothing. We had barely begun searching the opened warehouse when the port authorities arrived. Du Champs held off the troopers for a brief moment, as the rest of ran, hell-for-leather, before Du Champs out-paced us back into the depths of the jungle.
Still, while the raid was a failure, the authorities and merchants hadn’t had a good enough look at us to identify our faces, so we remained in Andros town to continue our repairs, replenishment and training. The crafty Wildmoon dared to approach the very merchants we had tried to rob with “exotic meats” for sale. Perhaps if the merchants had been French they would have been impressed by the cooked conch meat. The Dutch were unimpressed. Still, the merchants some of their own craftsmen to the port to aid repairs to our hull, which was quickly patched…for a nominal fee.
I trained with our gun crews and had every cannon cleaned and scrubbed, every frayed rope replaced, and every barrel of powder re-sealed. I was well on the way to mastering my chosen craft. Cooper took hunting parties out to forage the native pigs and flamingos, rather than spend our limited funds on foodstuffs, while Guyot took a cadre of soldiers off to search for a party of fugitive slaves for the bounty. Here, I confess I worked against this aim. I knew of these fugitives and arranged, through methods of my own, to warn them of pursuit. My intention was for them to relocate to a different part of the island. Instead, they chose to ambush their pursuers. None were killed, but I felt some guilt when Guyot returned, head bandaged and ears ringing. What Du Champs and Carson got up to is unknown to me, although whispers reached my ears that Carson could not be diverted by speaking other tongues - for he seemed to speak all - and that when Du Champs asked one a question, it was better to just answer.
But our bravado became our downfall. Within a few days the Dutch merchants came to the realization that it was our band who had attacked their own and tried to raid their warehouses. Or, perhaps a traitor or malcontent in our own crew sold us out for the reward offered by the Dutch in the aftermath of the raid? No one had seen Romanu in days…
The town’s constables and the merchant’s marines surprised us while taking our noon meal on the beach. We were forced to flee to our ship, Du Champs lost his purse in the rout, while we were forced to leave behind both small-arms intended for drilling and cannon still being scrubbed free of rust with sand. Our small ship was now woefully under-armed. Carson had the helm as we frantically cast off, and his skills managed to avoid both the Dutch merchantman and Andros Town patrol frigate attempting to blockade us in the harbor. Still, the tar on our patched hull was still tacky and we were unable to outrun the pursuing vessels. Both ships opened up at long range. Their cannon fire turned the sea to chop, our sails into tatters, and much of our deck to kindling. We were all bloodied and battered by the time the patrol boat pulled alongside to grapple. Carson had lost his will to flee, and, when we were boarded, Carson was seated, cross-legged before the helm, weeping and cradling the still form of Smitty - the young cabin boy viewed as our good luck charm. Truly, it seemed our luck had run out.
The Andros authorities and Dutch merchants tried us there and then. Carson, Du Champs and Guyot were acquitted while Cooper, Wildmoon and I were found guilty. Cooper’s name and family carried weight with the Dutch. He negotiated a ransom for himself. The Dutch were arguing hanging was “too good” for Wildmoon and myself, when the Andros Captain suggested, with a leer, that it would be a shame to “waste good stock” (pointing at me) on the end of a rope, when my strong arms would be better put to use manning an oar. I declared I would rather swing than face chains and was answered with laughter. I saw - or imagined I saw - a smirk on Carson’s face as the musket stock struck behind my knees and the back of my head.
I found myself aboard a galley, in a cramped and stinking hold alongside dozens of my brothers and sisters. In, what must pass for dark humor, I found I had not, in fact, been chained. Instead a leather strap had been riveted around my ankle, the other end grommet-ed to a steel hoop. “Chains can be undone, boy,” I was told, “So your fellows can sleep in the hold, while you can sleep at your oar.” And I prayed to Papa Legba and Damballah to deliver me. The loa heard my prayers, for, that very night the waves rose like mountains and thunder rolled like cannon and the galley in which I was imprisoned shattered in the force of the storm. The soldiers, weighted by their armor, and by brothers and sisters, weighted by chains, sank into the depths, leaving me adrift on a section of broken deck. Once more I prayed, this time to Oshun, to see me safely over the wild ocean, and, the next day, washed ashore on a small island.
I formed spear and knife from branch and stone, fished and hunted for food, and managed to start a small fire, all while cursing myself for trusting in those who had left me behind, until, days later a stained sail appeared on the horizon. I fed damp leaves into the fire to generate thick plumes of smoke and watched as the distant ship turned and drew near. The lines of the battered hulk looked familiar, and I could only grin in relief and forgiveness as a jolly-boat beached itself in the cove. The figure that clambered ashore and strode up to me, fastidiously dusting his shoulders as he strode up to me was one I knew well. The lanky Prussian, cocked his head at me, smiled and clapped me on the shoulder.
“Ach, Herr Charles,” said Cooper von Cooper,” When we saw the flotsam we feared you drowned. You are indeed lucky, mein fruend.