‘Take his keys!’ I yelled out in Sabir, feeling like I spoke the thoughts
of most present. ‘Take his bloody keys!’
Dimas’s eyes widened as I stood off the bench and pointed at him, still
shouting at the other slaves to act. As the overseer made to speak, a
brawny arm suddenly curled about his throat, which belonged to a hefty
Berber strokesman. The enormous slave nodded at me once, before he spoke to
the rowers alongside him.
‘Get the keys.’
He then bent over sideways and shoved the stunned Dimas underwater. The
crazed overseer kicked with his feet and twisted and turned, yet it was all
in vain as the bulging muscles rippled in the arm of his victim turned
aggressor. Meanwhile another slave had already reached Dimas’s side and
undone his huge belt, with the heavy clanking keys passing through many
hands even before the overseer had stopped kicking. The large Berber then
pulled Dimas’s head from the bilge water and wrung his neck for good
‘Be silent,’ he boomed across the benches, ‘and let none escape without my
Having declared himself the leader of the slave revolt, the giant then
turned his tattooed face towards our side of the deck, waiting for us all
to be freed. When the last shackle was undone he strode towards the steps
before us, crying out to the surviving rowers who already milled behind
‘Whosoever craves freedom, join with us now!’
A roar was returned as most hurried after him, with only a handful still
clinging to their benches in fear. I flung Esteban away as Maerten and I
hurried out, scarcely believing our luck as we ran after the fleeing rows
of slaves. A swish of bilge water was heard at our feet before we ran
towards the steps. As we hurried through the infirmary I could see that it
was choked with countless wounded men, who groaned aloud at our passing
while the physicians and surgeons stared at us in disbelief.
Upon reaching the main deck we were greeted by a flash of lightning, which
streaked the nightly heavens. The sight left us startled before our ears
were deafened by a roar of thunder. Our galley continued to lurch leeward
as the end of great waves spattered our decks. The scent of the open ocean
left me feeling half-revived, as I took in the chaos which Costa had
mentioned. Ahead of us, guards beat back mutineers before they too were set
upon by the Berber and his freed cohorts. We all swayed to the growing
throes of the ocean, and at the prow a despairing nobleman flung gold
doubloons overboard and cried out in despair.
‘Forgive us, oh Lord, for we have sinned!’
Furious pleas echoed within the officers’ cabin behind us, to what sounded
like the loud beating of fists upon a table. A second bolt of lightning cut
the sky in half, when another thunderclap drowned out all the shouting.
Black waves rose as high as the poop deck, pounding both prow and stern
with a fast-growing fury. When I turned my head, I could see that the winds
tore rigging off the mainmast as if it were lace.
A hand then wrapped itself around my throat, and I turned and saw Georg. As
I grappled with him he cried out to the other wardens, with his face
turning as dark as the clouds gathered above us. Two of his men seized
Maerten, who pushed and shoved at their grasp like a fiend. Amidst our
struggle the galley was shoved towards land like a squealing child led by
the ear, causing us to wobble across the slippery boards underfoot. Our mad
dance was soon ended when a burst of seawater scooped the five of us over
the ship’s rail.
The oath left my throat as I seized the edge of the gunwale. Hailstones the
size of small pebbles pelted my head, and my shoulder was half-wrenched
from its socket as one of the wardens grabbed hold of my ankle. When I
looked down I recognised the gaunt face of Georg who returned a fierce
glare, while trying to reach for my cloak with his other hand. I kicked at
his face until he finally let go of me, dropping with a howl into the dark
I raised my head towards Maerten, flooded with fear as I saw him dangling
by the ledge alongside me.
‘Hold on!’ I cried at him, trying to reach for his tunic with one hand.
Having lost its mooring, the Santa Maria sheered shoreward, as another
westerly screamed across the ocean. We teetered violently along the ship’s
side, until Maerten’s grip was loosened and he fell into the furious waves.
With a howl, I released my hold and fell in after him. Breath burst from my
lungs as I plunged deep into the black icy ocean, with its salt burning my
wounds and grazes. I then struggled back to the surface for a gasp of air,
seeing the youth struggling for breath alongside me.
‘Marti,’ I cried again, as we snatched each other’s forearms.
The ocean hauled us apart as my eyes briefly met the Fleming’s.
‘Abel…’ he groaned, as we were flung in different directions by the raging
sea. When I lost sight of him I cried his name again and again, then
returned my attention to keeping afloat. In the corner of my eye I spotted
a wayward plank of wood, and no sooner did I grab it than I was borne to
the heavens upon a white crest, coughing up the water that flew into my
When the wave toppled I still clung to the wood like a barnacle, finding
myself pulled far below the surf by a vicious current. My left shoulder was
slashed by a reef edge before I was hurled back above water, with my cries
muffled by the roaring thunder.