Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Catala - Chapter 5: Victory for the Pirates

Don Pedro placed the pistols on either side of Gevers neck and fired without hesitation. He upended Gevers headless body into the blue waters of the Indian Ocean, which was hurriedly turning a murky crimson, with pieces of humanity, masthead, shredded sails, and debris from the Zee.

He removed a large, immaculate linen handkerchief from his jacket and slowly and deliberately wiped the blood and slivers of Gevers brains off his face and neck. Don Pedro removed his soiled jacket and threw it overboard.

“Sangre del Diablo (Blood of the devil)!” His men were well trained but in pirate attacks anything could go wrong. Don Pedro and his crew loved the thrill of it.

“Por Dios, the cockatoo? I’ll cut any man’s collones and carajo off, if they blow this talking bird into a thousand pieces,” yelled Don Pedro.

The Lord Tung Lok was ready, willing and able to pay him – not only his weight, but also that of his crew in gold. If he brought him back a fine talking bird. This Cockatoo certainly deserved the appellation, he murmured.

“I don’t see Gevers! Where’s the Portuguese trader De Silva?” bellowed the captain of the Zee.

Another broadside hit the ship and the Zee was done for. The pirates whooped and howled, swinging adroitly on 20-foot ropes onto the deck of the Zee.

The cannon stifled any desire the cockatoo might have had in screeching. He was terrified. Thunder without rain! I’ve never experienced this.

“Senor Capitan!” Don Pedro’s first mate Rienzi roared. Don Pedro had removed his blue glass eye and covered the hole with the black eye patch, which he kept hidden in one of the pockets of his fine shirt with the embroidered cuffs. Rienzi gave him a white hat, which looked like a gypsy sombrero.

"OBRIGATO" said Don Pedro softly.

The captain of the Dutch vessel Zee had spotted him. “De Silva, what is the meaning of that eye patch? Why did that criminal call you Senor Capitan?” he asked, not wishing to hear the reply.

“Captain van de Veldt, I believe?” Allow me to introduce myself. I am Pedro de Freitas, not Don Pedro de Silva as I have led you and all your unfortunate companions to believe. Yes! I belong to the honorable profession of the Corsairs. You are, of course, our prisoners on my pirate ship."

"Round them up. Shoot anyone who resists, I don't want to say it again," the first mate Rienzi, ordered.

"Watch out for that cage!" Don Pedro warned his crew. Too late. One of them had distractedly stuck his forefinger inside. The cockatoo flew at him in a rage and lopped off an inch. Blood seemed to spray in all directions.

"It's my trigger finger, you hijo de puta! I'll kill you," the man with the cut finger screamed.

"No one can hurt the cockatoo. Did you all hear me? He's sacred. He's a talking bird. A Catala, the Arabs named them. He's worth more than any of us in gold. I'll cut off any man's cojones and carajo (penis) into little pieces and feed it back to him first,” declared Don Pedro with a deadly calm.

The crew paid attention and kept this in mind; Don Pedro never made empty threats.

The cockatoo flew into the bamboo saplings howling "EeeeeeKo! Rrrrrrra! AaaaaKo! Rrrrrrrra!"

"I never saw a white parrot before," said one of the young pirates, awed at the sight and the sound.

"That's not a parrot, that's a catala," declared an older pirate. Did you not hear our Capitan? At the orphanage in Macao, where I grew up, there was a watercolor drawing of one just like that ruffian."

The first mate Rienzi asked Don Pedro, "how are the men going to tie ropes and hoist the cage on to our pirate ship with the raging cockatoo inside without risking their carajos?"

"Simple, hombres, I saw the head hunters, the Naya, wrap thick matting around their hands when they hoisted the cage on to our launch. Find all the rags on this tub and cover your fingers with them."

The man with a piece of his forefinger torn off by the cockatoo's beak looked on with undisguised hostility at the proceedings. Don Pedro saw the hatred in Lupo's eyes.

"Look, Lupo, you're a pirate. You cannot afford to get careless. You got careless. You forgot that men, women and birds could cut off pieces of your body. Be happy he didn’t get at your huevos - testicles. Learn to shoot with your left hand. This ship is carrying large shipments of spices, coffee, tea and gold."

Don Pedro addressed the men. "Listen to me, all of you. I propose we give Lupo a larger share of the prize to compensate for the loss of his finger. But first he must realize it was his fault for allowing himself to become distracted."

"Carajo! I was careless," Lupo smiled a little bitter smile, "but that Hijo de la mala leche (son of bad and defective sperm) had better stay out of my way."

The lure of Lucre always worked, mused Don Pedro.

“Get Ching-Ching, the Chinese doctor, to look after your injured finger Lupo. He knows what salves and ointments to use to stave off infection,” ordered Rienzi.

The prize was all the booty, which was found on a ship to be of commercial value. Personal belongings were thrown into the sea. Even jewelry, which was too unique, was sometimes sacrificed as well. Only gems, preferably unset, were taken - unless they were diamonds, which were so hard they could be pried off their settings. Don Pedro was one of the best pirates and corsairs to be found in the Orient. He always divided the prize equally with his men. It was also intelligent to do so, for it kept dangerous ideas like mutiny from entering into the minds of his rascals.

Rienzi had gathered all the officers and men of the Zee. They were ordered to drink rum, which he was pouring out of their own kegs. The men from "The Marte," Don Pedro's lugger, were also being given the rum out of the same keg. The pirates made loud noises as they drank. "This is not bad rum," they said. Our compliments, Captain".

"What do you mean?" snapped Captain van de Veldt of the Dutch ship the "Zee." In her Imperial Queen Wilhelmina's colonies in the Dutch East Indies we eat and drink nothing but the finest, the rum obviously starting to get to him."

"Let's all drink to that," proposed Don Pedro.

The bamboo cage was being securely fastened with ropes and covered with netting which a pulley from the pirate’s ship could then hoist.

"Rrrrrra! Rrrrrra! EeeeeeeKo!" The cockatoo commenced its ungodly shrieks.

Some of the men covered their ears. "How long do we have to listen to that?"

"However long it takes," was Don Pedro’s reply.

1 comment:

  1. Pirates. An oral legend in my paternal, English side of my family says we descend from one 18th century "pirate". Actually not on the Ball side, but a man through a maternal line who - after he "retired" from piracy - settled in Scarborough, near the coast, and married into a family of prosperous yeomen. An (almost extinct, as is his memory) family tradition sanctioned keeping his name a secret, and so I will continue to keep his name secret. Today less than .01 percent (or fewer) of his descendants know that he even existed.

    But WHAT IS a "pirate"? Sir Francis Drake was one. And many, or most, of the English pirates of the 18th century, were men who did good service in the Royal Navy and then returned home to poverty and scorn. So they took to the seas again, using their naval war skills to enrich themselves in the same way that the elites of British Empire formerly USED THEM to enrich themselves during the wars of empire!

    The British empire exploited many of the best sailors/warriors in the world in its imperial wars, and then discarded them with contempt and did not look after the veterans or their wives and children. Consequently, many veterans of the Royal Navy - shortly after Queen Anne's wars (circa 1710) - made a living out of "piracy", because there was no work or wages for them at home.

    They weren't choir-boys, but neither were they any more rapine than the British Army or Navy have ever been. And most of their quarry were British merchant ships - heh, fair enough, yeah? :-)

    The most famous one, to this day, is "Blackbeard", aka Edward Teach (died at age c 45, in 1718). "Blackbeard" had done good service in the Royal Navy, but then returned home to unemployment and scorn. Who can blame him for turning his talents against the government of his own country, who betrayed him and his kind?

    Blackbeard the "pirate" always tried to avoid violence. He preferred to use terrifying showmanship, to cow the merchant mariners into surrendering their goods to him, without any fighting.
    That's why he would board the targeted merchant ships with burning coils in his hair, and several pistols and swords in his belt - to try to AVOID violence, through good showmanship! :-)

    Given a choice of companionship, between, say, the British Army General Reginald Dyer who ordered the Amritsar massacre of unarmed civilians in India (1919), and Blackbeard who never committed any violence unless he was met with violence, I'd prefer Blackbeard as my companion. At least Blackbeard the "pirate" never slaughtered any children, as all too many British Army officers have so often ordered over the past 230 years or so, including in Iraq in recent years.


Isabel Van Fechtmann

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