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Viceroy José de la Serna stared out the window of his office at the city below, his thoughts churning. San Martin's Army of the Andes was threatening the capital, and with negotiations failing so miserably at this point, de la Serna had no doubt that he would soon need to either capitulate to the rebels' demands or abandon the city entirely.
He didn't consider either option acceptable in the least.
Why couldn't that bastard be happy enough with Argentina and Chile? he asked himself, not for the first time. He hasn't pulled enough land out of Spanish hands? He has to come here and cause trouble for me?
The bastard in question, of course, was General José de San Martin, leader of the rebel army, now just a few days' march from his door. San Martin was no stranger to confrontation, either: after liberating Argentina, he'd led his army across the Andes, no small feat in and of itself, and had then fought rather brilliantly at both the battles of Chacabuco and Maipu, liberating Chile from Spanish rule. Now he planned to do the same to Peru.
De le Serna had half a mind to abandon the city that very evening. He could reestablish the capital at Cuzco and run the defense of the province from there, if need be. It was a better location both tactically and strategically, which made it quite attractive to the viceroy.
He'd do it, too, if it wasn't for all that damned treasure!
He turned away from the window, crossed the room and practically threw himself into a thickly padded chair in front of the fireplace. In the corner stood one of the pieces from the very collection that was causing him such vexing problems.
The statue was life-size and cast entirely in gold. It showed the Virgin Mother kneeling with the infant Jesus clasped gently in her arms. Mother and son were staring at each other, seemingly lost in each other's eyes. The artist had done a marvelous job of infusing the statue with a sense of life, of emotion, and from the very first moment he's laid eyes upon it, de la Serna knew he had to have it. Thankfully, his present position of viceroy of Peru allowed him to do pretty much whatever he wanted. Appropriating the statue from the cathedral had been one of his first acts as viceroy.
The statue was just a tiny fraction of the wealth stored in the cathedral's vaults, however. For years the church had been gathering vast sums of treasure through donations from the rich and poor alike. The bishop had recently estimated the value of the vaults' contents to be somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred and sixty million sols! If the church's treasury were to fall into San Martin's hands, he could finance hundreds of revolutions and still have plenty of wealth left over to live a long and prosperous life.
De la Serna could not allow that to happen.
Which meant he had to find some way to get the treasure out of the city before San Martin and his men reached the city gates.
He's been pondering the problem for several days now and knew that his options were weak, at best. Pulling a group of his own men off the line would quickly be noticed by the enemy. Once that happened, any attempt to move the treasure overland would more than likely be sniffed out and intercepted by the enemy. Besides, it was more than a thousand kilometers to Cuzco, over mountainous terrain, and San Martin's army wouldn't be the only danger his men would have to face along the way. Everything from brigands to the weather could pose a threat, and there was more than one lonely stretch of road where they could be ambushed, their cargo stolen with no one the wiser. Travelers disappeared from those mountainous roads all the time, often never to be seen again.
No, overland was out.
That left the sea. The port of Callao was less than ten kilometers to the west. If he could get the treasure aboard a ship he could send it north, to his Spanish allies in Mexico, who would no doubt be happy to secure it for a reasonable fee until things had settled down enough here for him to reclaim it.
It seemed like a reasonable answer, until he remembered that the last vessel flying a Spanish flag had left port several days earlier when it became apparent San Martin's army was headed their way. Right now, the only ships in the harbor belonged to the French, English and Dutch. None of them could be called allies, but then again, they weren't outright enemies, either. For the right price, he might be able to persuade one of them to handle his cargo for him.
He considered the ships he knew to be in port, reviewing what he knew about the captains of each. After some time, he came to a decision.
Clapping his hands sharply twice, the viceroy summoned one of his servants. When the young man appeared, de la Serna said, "Send a message to the Mary Dear and invite Captain Thompson to dinner this evening."
The servant bowed. "Sir," he said, then, straightening, turned for the door.
When the man stopped and turned back, the viceroy said, "If Thompson declines the invitation, go to the Majestic Wind and make the same invitation to Captain Barbossa next, but only if Thompson declines. Understood?"
"Good." A wave of his hand. "Get!"
The viceroy went back to gazing out the window, searching the horizon for the storm that he knew was on its way.
"A fine meal, Viceroy," Captain Thompson said several hours later. "A fine meal indeed!"
De le Serna nodded his thanks, careful not to let his irritation show on his face. Of course it was a fine mealhe had one of the best cooks in all of Lima at his disposal, and the man had gone out of his way to prepare dishes the Englishman would enjoy. Thick steaks from the finest Peruvian cattle. Rice-stuffed squab. Potatoes baked in garlic and butter. Never mind several bottles of fifty-year-old French wine to wash it all down.
The English sea captain drained his glass and then held it out for de la Serna's steward to fill it again for what had to be the umpteenth time. The steward looked in the viceroy's direction, but de la Serna simply nodded for him to proceed. Wine was the least valuable thing they'd be discussing this evening.
With his glass topped up, Thompson settled back in satisfaction. "While I appreciate the hospitality, Viceroy, something tells me that this is more than just a social call."
De la Serna forced himself to smile. "You are an astute man, Captain."
"So what can I do for you?"
"I'd like to hire your ship."
At the word hire, a change seemed to come over the man. In the space of an instant, the ruddy-faced drunkard who had consumed two of his best bottles of wine all on his own was replaced by a steely-eyed man who was all business.
"What's the destination?"
De la Serna was sending the treasure to the Spanish ambassador in Mexico City; Acapulco was the closest port to that landlocked city.
"Six passengers and roughly thirty to fifty crates."
Captain Thompson caught his gaze with his own. "The contents of these crates?"
"I'd rather not say."
The Englishman smiled and rose from the table. "Well, then, I suspect we are through, Viceroy. Thank you for dinner but I must"
De la Serna broke in. "That's it? But you haven't even asked what the fee is for your services."
Thompson shrugged. "You leave me no choice, Viceroy. A dead man cannot spend his fee, no matter how exorbitant it might be."
"Even one as exorbitant as one hundred thousand sols?"
The Englishman laughed. "Especially one like that. You see, Viceroy, mysterious cargos tend to bring mysterious enemies out of the woodwork like termites around fresh wood. It is hard to defend a hold full of goods that I know nothing about. Therefore, reason dictates that I should say no."
De la Serna thought he heard a note of hesitation in the other man's voice. "But?" he asked hopefully.
"But reason doesn't always keep the ship repaired and the men fed. Tell me, Viceroy, does your need to move this particular cargo have anything to do with the army amassing to the south of the city?"
"You know it does, Thompson."
"Then it would seem that your fee is a bit low, given the hazardous nature of the task. General San Martin will not look kindly on those who assisted the monarchy when he 'liberates' the city."
De la Serna bristled at the insinuation that his men would fall before San Martin's troops, but he held on to his temper lest he ruin his chances before they even got off the ground. "San Martin's troops will not set foot in this city, but your point about the dangerous nature of shipping a cargo out from under his very nose is well taken. I am willing to double my fee. Two hundred thousand sols."
The viceroy knew the price was insignificant when compared to the cost of the treasure itself. He was willing to pay twiceno, three timesthat if it meant the treasure would be safely transported to Mexico City.
Despite the viceroy's poker face, Captain Thompson must have picked up on a little of what he was thinking, for he extended his hand with a smile on his face and said, "Three hundred thousand sols and you've got a deal."
De la Serna tried to look pained as he shook the other man's hand, but inwardly he was more than satisfied. A deal had been struck; now all he had to do was ensure that Thompson carried out his half of the agreement.
Port of Callao
Later that night Captain William Thompson stood on the command deck of his vessel, the two-masted, square-sailed brig named the Mary Dear. He looked down upon the long line of horse-pulled wagons making their way along the dock toward the place where his ship was moored. He eyed the approaching cargo carefully and then turned to the grizzled old sailor standing attentively at his side.
"That's a pretty heavy load," he said to Jones, his first mate. "Get a crew to shift some of the ballast aft before we begin loading that cargo. Don't want to stress the old girl unnecessarily."
"Aye, Captain," Jones replied and moved off, shouting orders.
Thompson remained where he was until the caravan drew close and then headed back to his cabin to await the newcomers' arrival. Other captains might have met their passengers on deck, but Thompson was a stickler for protocol aboard his ship and there was no way he was going to stand around waiting to receive the viceroy's men like a common sailor. He'd have Jones bring them to him when they arrived and with that one gesture make it clear to all just who was in charge. He might be carrying cargo for the viceroy, but he was still his own man, through and through, and on this ship he was king.
He was standing by the table in his cabin, a lantern shining light on the sea charts spread out in front of him, when there was a knock at his door.
"Come," he called.
The door opened and Jones led three men into the roomtwo priests, one young and one old, with a grizzled old soldier to guard them.
"Fathers Alvarez and Blanco, Sergeant Ruiz," said Jones, "may I present Captain William Thompson."
Thompson smiled. "Gentlemen, please, come in."
The older priest, Alvarez, was of medium height and build, but he carried himself as if he owned the place, a trait that made Thompson instantly dislike him. The younger priest was cut from the same clothfive minutes after meeting him, you wouldn't be able to pull him out of a crowd, so bland were his features. But he had yet to take on that mantle of self-importance that his superior had in spades.
Give him time, Thompson thought, give him time. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Sergeant Ruiz, on the other hand, was exactly what Thompson expected him to be, an obvious veteran of several wars who carried an air of hard competence about him like a cloak. This was not a man to toy with lightly.
Of the three, Thompson would regret killing Ruiz the most.
Handshakes were exchanged all around and beverages were offered but declined. With the social niceties out of the way, the older priest, Alvarez, stepped forward and handed a sealed letter to the captain.
Thompson glanced down at it, noting the viceroy's mark in the middle of the wax seal, and then broke open the packet to remove a single sheet of paper. He stepped over to the lantern to see it better as he read.
Captain Thompson, Reports arrived on my desk this afternoon indicating that Lord Cochrane is headed up the coast with a fleet of ships at his disposal, intending to block Callao in order to force those of us here in Lima to capitulate to the rebels' demands. Time is clearly of the essence; if you are caught in port when Cochrane and his fleet arrive, I have little hope that your national sovereignty will save you from humiliation at the rebels' hands, especially given the cargo you now carry.
I urge you, therefore, to make haste and put to sea as quickly as possible. My representatives, Father Alvarez and his assistant, Father Blanco, are familiar with those at your destination and will help smooth your passage once you reach Mexico.
Godspeed and God bless. Viceroy José de la Serna
When he finished reading it, Thompson carefully folded the letter and then fed it to the flame of a nearby candle until the heat got too close and he tossed it into a nearby bowl to burn itself out. If Cochrane did catch him, he wanted no proof of his collusion with de la Serna left on hand.
"Thank you for delivering that, Father," he said to Alverez.
The older priest smiled. "Good news, I hope?"
Thompson shrugged. "Too soon to tell, I fear, but one can always hope."
"We will pray for it to be so," Alvarez replied, which threatened to pull an explosion of laughter out of Thompson before he got a handle on it.
"I'd appreciate that, Father," he told the other man instead. With a straight face, no less. He glanced over the priest's shoulder and nodded at Jones.
"Jones here" indicating the first mate "will show you to your cabins, gentlemen."
Ruiz spoke up for the first time. "My men and I will bunk down in the hold to keep watch on the cargo."
"As you wish, Sergeant. I can have Jones arrange some bread, meat and cheese for supper, if you'd like."
The old veteran nodded. "That would be appreciated. Thank you, Captain."
"My pleasure," Thompson said. "Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I have a voyage to plan."