Archbishop Alonzo de Urdaneta growled in frustration. His forehead wrinkled as he squinted in the candlelight. He had the stone in his possession for weeks, but he had made little progress in understanding its power. His vast collection of texts and correspondence with others in his circle had helped to verify that he did indeed have one of the ancient Atlantean stones of power. His frustration was caused by his inability to get the stone to do anything other than prevent the piles of parchment and vellum from sliding off his desk.
Day had passed into night and back to day again without any notice. To ensure his privacy as he studied, Urdaneta closed himself and his chamber off from the outside world. Every description, every account of the stone had been tested. He rubbed it, tapped it, rolled it. He smashed and crushed other rocks with it. He submerged it in fresh water, salt water, wine, milk, oil and nothing happened. He struck the stone with every tuning fork in the cathedral.
His frustration turned to rage and he threw it into the fire. Still nothing. He had to stoop low, dragging the hem of his robes in the ashes, to reach the stone with the poker that was laying on the hearth. Hooking it with the poker, he pulled the stone through the ash and charred bits of wood. Finally he could reach it with his hand. It was warm, but otherwise unchanged. The smooth polished texture slid around in his hands as he cleaned off the black soot from its surface. He could still see the shadows of his fingers when he held it over the firelight. The opalescent colors shifted as he examined it. Nothing. No change. There was no glow, no heat, no spark, nothing to indicate it was anything more than a pretty decorative stone.
He dropped it back on his desk and eased his bulk into his chair. Leaning back, he rubbed his face. The stubble on his chin had begun to soften during his self imposed confinement. He stretched his neck and rubbed one of the knotted muscles in his shoulder. Then he reached for his quill to record his observations.
He reached for his glass as he wrote and remembered he’d emptied it and the decanter of wine hours ago. So, Urdaneta finished his notes and placed the stone back in its box. He rang the bell that sat on his desk.
Father Miguel open the doors. The soft sunlight of morning came in with the little priest.
“Shut the door,” growled Urdaneta.
Father Miguel heaved a sigh and pulled the heavy door closed behind him. He quickly crossed the expensive room and held out a stack of letters to the Archbishop.
“You were missed at vespers…” said Miguel.
Urdaneta glared up at the priest standing next to his seat and pointed to a space on the desk.
Father Miguel laid the letters on the spot indicated and continued, “and again at morning prayer.”
“My bed also missed my presence while I stayed here in prayer and contemplation. Your duties do not include judging how I perform mine. Go fetch me tea and something to break my fast.”
“Yes, Your Excellency.” Miguel turned on the spot and marched out, his back ramrod straight with indignation.
Urdaneta sorted through his correspondence while he waited for Father Miguel to return. One seal caught his attention. He had forgotten about asking Governor Francisco Solis for information from his collection of texts. He broke the seal and quickly skimmed the missive. His eye stopped at the response.
“To answer your question, yes I recall similar stories,” Solis wrote. “I am fascinated by your interest in what amounts to children’s stories. One version I heard when I was young and serving our King along the Barbary Coast. One of the niñeras told of a prince and his lost treasure. The treasure in the story was not gold or gems, but a stone like you described. The prince called it his Sun Stone.”
At that moment the doors opened again. Urdaneta quickly folded the letter. Father Miguel approached with a tray of tea, rice, fresh fruit, and sausage. The younger man’s anger had grown while he ran his errand to the kitchens. Seeing Urdaneta sitting like an overfed toad in the midst of worldly wealth and comfort caused his anger to boil over. He dropped the tray on top of the documents in the middle of the desk. Hot glares passed between them both, Miguel white with icy resentment and Urdaneta growing red with rage.
Urdaneta broke the eye contact and looked back at the tray on his desk. The stack of letters caught his eye again. At the top was another of a long series of correspondence from Bishop Compana in Ecuador. No doubt he was once again pleading for assistance from his old mentor.
Urdaneta’s eyes flicked back up to the face of Father Miguel. “Since your service here seems to displease you so, Father Miguel, I think it is time for you to serve the Almighty in some place with more opportunity to submit your will to His. Bishop Campana has been requesting aid for several parishes in Ecuador. You will take the next available ship to provide that aid. I do not wish to see your face again.”
“May God’s will be done,” replied Father Miguel. He turned at once relieved never to look upon the haughty face of Archbishop Urdaneta again. Prayers of praise and thanksgiving welled up in his heart as he made his way to the port to secure his passage to the Americas.
“I took Quintor along with me for one last inspection, Captain. He spent a lot of time with the men cleaning and patching the hull. He spotted things I had grown familiar with.” Hawkins reported on the state of the Siren Song.
Grace watched as the high tide began to lift the ship off the sand, but was not listening to the quartermaster’s report. She was listening to the way the sound of the waves changed as the ship began to take to the water. For weeks the ship had seemed ill as she lay on her side propped up on the beach. The Siren Song took on the joy, life, and energy of the sun and the waves as she began to bob and dance again.
“ Perfect. Lovely. Wonderful,” Grace replied. “Keep up the good work, Hawkins,” she said as she began to pull off her boots.
Before Hawkins could say more, Captain Grace O’Malley took off up the beach, her piering whistle calling Corvus to follow. She followed the sand north beyond the camp. Her pace didn’t slacken even as she walked beyond the sounds of the men loading the boats with supplies. Corvus was gliding low between her and the open water, occasionally landing on the sand to seek out a snack or examine something shiny.
When she could no longer see the camp sheltered inside the arms of the bay, Grace stopped. She stood there, the damp sand squishing around her bare feet. Here there was no gentle transition from the beach to the open ocean. The waves gathered power until they rolled up on themselves and crashed against the sand.
“The voice of the Pacific is so different,” she told Corvus as he landed nearby. “Do you remember how the waters of the Caribbean would gently roll up onto the beach?”
Corvus looked up at her, his head cocked to one side to focus one of his black bead eyes at her.
“Yes, I know, it’s all the same to you so long as there is food to be found. But this ocean doesn’t call to me, it challenges me. Dares me to take it on.”
At that moment a big wave mounted high and broke with a crashing foam and water raced toward them both. Corvus spread his white tipped wings wide and took to the air just as the waves reached the patch of sand he had been exploring.
Grace laughed and took a few steps back as the water washed over her feet and ankles. Corvus banked and glided back down the beach. The constant hiss and splash of the waves on the sand was punctuated by the deep boom of waves crashing on a distant outcropping of rocks. Grace backed up a little further and sat on a patch of dry sand. She watched for some time as the water rolled up, broke, and pulled itself back into the next wave. The challenge in the ocean’s voice restored her mind and her will. Her ship was ready. Her crew was strong and healthy once again. It was time, and she would show this ocean what she could do.
“Corvus! Come along you barmy bird! It’s time to put this crew back to work.”
As she came back around the northern end of the camp, she spotted Bartolo overseeing the tear-down of the hammocks and sleeping shelters. Already, half the camp was packed up and ferried back out to the ship.
“Captain! Mr. Hawkins would like the crew to sleep aboard tonight,” Bartolo called to her as she approached.
“That soon,” she replied.
“Aye, he says that with everyone healthy and eager, we’ve been able to load back up much quicker.”
“That’s all fine and good, but we have one man who has yet to sign the ship’s articles.”
Bartolo’s eyes brightened at the reference to Henry Quintor. “Aye, Captain,” he replied.
“Is Mr. Hawkins currently aboard?”
“Yes, I believe his is, mistress.”
“Very well. I see your Henry loading a boat. I will send a message with him.” She walked away, leaving Bartolo to smile to himself.
“Ahoy, Mr. Quintor,” she called as she came up to the boat.
Henry turned on his heel and nearly saluted her as he would have saluted his former merchant captain. “Captain,” was his one word greeting in his dark honeyed voice.
He stood head and shoulders above the rest of the men working around him. His movements were smooth and powerful as he shifted crates and gear from the beach into the boat. The men working around him were just as quiet as he was as they tried to copy his form. Not only had he been accepted as a member of the crew, he was already influencing them.
“Will you be heading over to the ship with this load?” Grace asked.
“Would you please take a message to Mr. Hawkins for me?”
She smiled. He could not be easily baited into conversation. “Let him know that I wish to have one more bonfire on the beach before the crew boards tonight. We need a reading of the articles.”
“Am I correct in thinking that you have determined to join this crew?”
“I have, Captain,” he replied as he lifted the last of that load into the boat.
“Then you may also inform Mr. Hawkins that you will be signing those articles after the reading.”
“Thank you, Captain,” he said and then climbed into the boat and pushed out into the water.
Within two days of setting out from Windy Bay, the Siren Song was trim and sailing as she had on her maiden voyage. The weather was fair and breezy as they approached the coast of Chile. The winds, current, tang of the air and the joyous way her ship sailed made Grace feel as though the Pacific approved of their presence and would reward them in short order.
“Sail off the starboard bow!” The man on watch in the crow’s nest called down to the crew below. His excitement instantly spread threw the rest of the crew. They were strong and healthy and itching to take a prize.
Grace took up a glass near the helm and made for the starboard railing to see if she could spot the tell-tale patch of white in the vastness of shimmering water.
“Likely a small fishing vessel, Captain,” the man aloft shouted. He had spotted her scanning the forward horizon and pointed about thirty degrees out from the bow of the ship.
Grace scanned again slowly covering the area indicated. Her efforts were rewarded with the sight of a single mast bobbing just below the horizon.
“No change yet, since I spotted her,” the man called down. “Either they haven’t noticed us yet or don’t mind our presence.”
“Keep watch on her course,” Grace called back up.Then she turned to Hawkins who was currently at the helm. “What say you? Put them through their paces even if it is just a handful of fishermen?”
“Even fishermen will have some information of value, Captain.” Hawkins smiled, knowing it was likely what his captain was thinking.
Grace smiled back at him. “All hands! Battle stations! Make ready to board.”
The decks came alive as the crew leapt into action.
“Raise no colors yet,” she called to the man sorting through their collection of flags. “Let them wonder if we are friend or foe.”
“They seem to be staying their coarse for the coast, but haven’t changed tack or put on more speed,” came the report from the crow’s nest.
Bartolo, Mr. Quintor, and Dr. Sloane appeared on the deck with Grace and Mr. Hawkins, each outfitted with various pistols, knives and other weaponry.
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,” said Dr. Sloane.
“Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,” replied Hawkins.
Both men wore boyish smiles that looked more of mischief than skulduggery.
Mr. Quintor was leaning far over the railings to watch as they closed in on their prey. “I think she has decided that we are foes, Captain. They are making a break for the shore.”
“Fishing barque is tacking hard to shore!” cried the lookout.
“The time to play coy has past.” Hawkins nudged the helm, filling the sheets, and poured on the speed.
Although their prey was small and light, it also lacked enough canvas to gain any more speed at that distance. The Siren Song quickly closed the gap between them and cut off the small single masted ship from the shore. Seeing over 100 mean shouting and jeering at the rails of the Siren Song, the captain of the smaller vessel gave the order to lower the sails and surrender.