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Authors: Beverly Connor

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"I do," I said, "but the ship ... she will not allow it. Unless you
have a board and pieces with those little pegs and holes."

Valerian, I discovered, is a man who devises contrivances, some
of which are most useful, others quite fanciful. He carries with him
one of the latter. He set a heavy chessboard with a clank on a table
and grinned at me as he took pieces from a leather pouch and set
them with a clink, clink, clink, on the board. When they were all
arranged in their ranks, he gestured with a bow. The pieces stayed,
defying the lurching of the ship. I picked up my queen and felt a
slight tug as though she were reluctant to leave her square. The
clever Valerian had inlayed the bottom of intricately carved ivory
pieces with lodestone and made a board of iron. I laughed at his
brilliance and we sat down and played. Juan Lopez stayed and
watched our play after turning to Bellisaro and making sure that
we were not offending him.

"Of course not," said the pilot. But Bellisaro left the cabin and I wondered if perhaps he was weary of the ever-jovial Lopez. I, for
one, am beginning to find his presence tiresome.

Valerian's servant, whose name is Jen, is a secretive fellow, but
seems to get along well with the rest of the crew. He has no obligations except to Valerian, but he readily helps the crew with various tasks. He eats by himself, having his own cup and bowl. At
first it was a cause for taunts from the crew. They eat from a common bowl and, I must add, as with dogs, this has on more than
one occasion been the cause of fights. Sailors fight with knives,
which they all carry for their work. They fight readily and cut one
another viciously. They can just as easily make up. Have I mentioned that, also like dogs, the crew sleep where they can find a
place on the deck, and usually in a different place each night? If
the place where a man has chosen to lay his head is needed during the night, he must move. My own opinion is, every person
needs a place of their own. Being a lowly sailor is a fate I would not
wish on anyone. I don't know why anyone would choose it.

The sea has been smooth for the last few days and the winds
favorable. By smooth, I don't mean like the still, mirrored surface
of a lake. The ocean is never still. On the calmest of days, the sea
has a sparkling, green-blue, coarse surface. The crew tend to
repairing sails or washing the decks. During these tasks, which the
men find monotonous, they sing, accompanied by Jen on the
Veracruz harp. It surprises me that he plays a Spanish instrument.
Not one of his ancestors seems to have come from Spain. The
favorite entertainment for the crew, and I confess for me as well, is
Valerian reading to us from books he has found in other lands
about lost cities and strange creatures and quests for treasure. It is
very easy to entertain a crew by talking about treasure. Valerian is
clever enough to add many texts praising God, which I suspect are
not in the book, but keep Valerian from being accused of blasphemy and allow the crew to listen without guilt.

I am becoming accustomed to our community here at sea. I do
not mind the repetitive daily routine. It is a comfort. I believe it is
Lopez and the captain whom I need to overhear, but it is not easy.
I am trying to make friends with Lopez. One would think it would
be easy. But it is not. He talks incessantly, but says nothing. He acts
like your friend, but I sense it is false. Sometimes when I engage
him in deep conversation during meals or in our cabins, I see
Valerian eyeing me, not suspiciously, but knowingly. Sometimes it seems as if he can see through me. I want to know what secret he
has with the captain and Lopez-he is so very unlike them-and if
it has anything to do with the business for which the House of
Trade has sent me on this journey.

Today for all my attempts to listen to important conservation,
quite by accident I overheard a fragment between the captain and
Lopez. It was early morning, the sun had not yet risen above the
arc of the horizon. I stood on the weather deck at the stern of the
ship, waiting for the golden sunrise, when quiet voices just below
me rose, along with the steam and smoke from the galley hearth,
through the grating. I heard what sounded to me like the captain
saying something like, ". . . obstinate. I can't change him."
Another voice that I am sure belonged to Lopez, for it was clearer,
said that there will be no obstacle in the way of their detour. That
was all. I then heard footfalls and the voices stopped. I do not
understand what they spoke of, nor am I sure how it fits with what
I was sent to discover, but I know it was important. Moreover, talk
of a detour fills me with fear.

A man fell from a yardarm to the deck today. I had awakened
and come to the deck early as is my habit. The page was reciting
our thanks to God and turning the sand clock. The sun was rising
and the sky was bright red and the sea was quiet. It would be a
fine day, I thought. But the sailors on duty grumbled to themselves. Acosta, the ship's captain, assembled the crew and
reminded them that God is with us. (Not even in church do men
beseech our Lord as often as they do on board ship.) Then he
ordered the men fed. This surprised me. It was not a usual mealtime and the captain was unusually generous with the food. I mentioned this to Bellisaro, who had taken up his station. He answered
that I might go down to our cabin. I shrugged and went to the
forecastle deck to breathe in the fresh air.

"There's a storm coming." Valerian appeared beside me. He can
be a very quiet man. "I heard you speak to Bellisaro," said he.
"They feed the men before a storm, for there will be much work
for them." I shivered as the first gust of wind blew across my face.

The wind increased, and Bellisaro ordered the topgallant sail to
be furled. I watched several men scurry to the top. So tall is the
mainmast that I had to crane my neck to see them. They loosened
the bottom of the sail and were gathering it up to tie it to the
yardarm when a gust of wind billowed it, knocking a sailor from his perch. I stood unable to move as he fell. I can barely remember his falling cry, but the sound of his body hitting the deck of the
ship is forever in my head.

Valerian and I were the first to reach him. He was clearly beyond
our help. The two of us, without waiting for an order, picked up
his hands and feet and hauled him away. For my part, I wanted the
sailors attending to the ship if a storm was coming. Valerian, however, is a man who does what needs to be done.

Valerian and I, followed by Father Hernando, took the poor soul
down to the sailmaker, who quickly checked him over as Father
Hernando prayed over him. The sailmaker removed the sailor's
clothing and sewed him into sailcloth, the first stitch going
through his septum. By the time the sailmaker finished, the ship's
rocking had increased considerably. I prayed silently.

I went to my cabin to sit out the storm. Valerian kept me company. We talked at first, he telling me that it is good we are in the
middle of the ocean, that there is greater danger nearer the coast.
It was little comfort to me. At least nearer the coast I could swim
to the shore.

The pitching of the ship became too violent for us to talk and
we simply held on to whatever we could. I was glad that I had not
eaten since the day before for surely it would not have stayed
down. More than once was I slammed into the wall so hard I
thought I would surely die. I pitied the poor men on deck and
envied the man in the sailcloth.

I do not see how the ship withstood the fierce pounding of the
ocean. The ocean is so vast and the ship so small. How could it
possibly hold together? How in God's name could we survive? God
help us, I whispered over and over.

"We are in good hands," Valerian yelled above the din to me.
"Bellisaro is a good pilot. See, we pitch bow to stern, not side to
side. This is good."

I hung on to his words as tightly as I hung on to the table leg,
which was, thankfully, fastened to the floor.

We did survive. Abruptly, the heavy pitching of the sea stopped
and we bobbed like a bottle of wine in the water. I was so relieved
I forgot my aching body for the joy of finding myself alive and the
ship whole. Valerian pulled himself up. "Thank God it's over," he
said, and together we went up on deck to survey the damage. I
thought I would find the men resting after such an ordeal, but they were busy pumping water from every deck and setting things
right. A sailor must never rest. I pity them.

As it turned out, the storm was a harbinger of evil. The Orgullo
de Espana was lost. There were but three survivors found clinging
to pieces of broken mast floating in the water. The Rosario took in
two of them, we the third-a sailor named Sancho.

 
Chapter 10

LINDSAY WAS UP early. She downed a glass of milk and had a
sausage and biscuit from the mess before returning to the recovery of her unfortunate seafarer. Someone had brought a CD of sea
chanteys, and she was greeted to the rhythmic strains of "What
do you do with a drunken sailor?" She took up her spot beside
her grid unit and removed the plastic covering. The night crew
had finished the removal of the fill and the whole of the skeleton
stood out in relief on the sea floor. His skull faced upward, his
torso was twisted on its side so that the left set of ribs lay across
the right set. His arms were at his sides-the right arm under the
ribs and the left on top. The pelvis was slanted faceup like the
skull, and the legs were extended. A yellow-brown textile covered half the face, part of the ribs, and upper legs. Fabric was also
under the skeleton.

"Pretty interesting, isn't he?" The two members of the night
crew were coming over, stepping across the planks. "We thought
you would probably take him up first thing."

Lindsay nodded. "Nice job. He looks good. Lewis is here. He'll
probably want to see him first."

As if on cue, Lindsay looked up and saw Lewis, followed by a
television crew, descending the scaffolding.

"The ship's keel is 104 feet. That would make her main deck
about 123 feet long. She was probably 37%4 feet wide and, of course,
had multiple decks. The Estrella was a big ship. If she had to wreck,
we are lucky she wrecked off the coast of Georgia. Trey Marcus, the
principal investigator and professor of marine archaeology at the
University of Georgia, can tell you more."

Francisco Lewis was good. Lindsay had to concede that his
voice and manner could make even the most mundane statistics sound fascinating. In his jeans, khaki shirt, and tie, he looked ever
the popular vision of an archaeologist. All he needed was a whip
and a felt fedora.

The television crew had set up their equipment near the staircase, with the cameras pointing toward the dig and the crew as
background. Lindsay shifted on the planks, wishing she could just
take up the bones.

The interviewer turned to Trey. "How did you find the ship?"

"Two of my students were surveying in the area looking for a
Civil War vessel and found a cannon. The cannon had on it an
emblem suggestive of a much earlier Spanish ship. We went to
Spain and found in their archives records of a ship named Estrella
de Espana lost from a fleet of six ships on their way to Havana from
Spain in 1558. The fleet lost sight of the Estrella during the night in
good weather a few days away from their destination. Actually, we
found that two ships were lost from the fleet, but the first ship was
lost in the mid-Atlantic much earlier in the voyage."

"This sounds very mysterious. Was the ship in the Bermuda
Triangle? Did that have something to do with her strange disappearance?"

Lindsay hoped her groan wasn't picked up by the sound equipment. She hated questions that assumed events in history were driven by aliens, lost tribes, and strange forces.

Trey paused for only a second. "The disappearance was a mystery, but not strange. The ocean is big and full of danger even
today, and we have global positioning satellites and all kinds of
sophisticated navigational equipment." He held up the instrument
he had at his side. "This astrolabe, a compass, wind, brains, and
muscle were all that got the ship across the ocean. It was easy to
sail off course and become lost. As it happens, we believe this ship
was sunk in a storm."

"How do you know that?"

"We've found three of what we believe to be her cannons several miles away, and so far we've found none in the excavation.
Ships' captains often ordered the cannons and heavy cargo
thrown overboard to lighten the ship when they ran into really
serious trouble. We've also found anchor rope in a position that
suggests they were desperately trying to save the ship from breaking up."

"So you can tell about her final days from what you find here?"

"Probably. We've already discovered plenty, and we've virtually only started."

"How about the crew? Do you expect to find any human
remains?"

"As a matter of fact," said Lewis, "we have just finished excavating a human skeleton. Perhaps you would like to see it?"

"Oh, no," said Bobbie. "They're coming over here."

Trey helped them negotiate the walkways as they made their
way to Unit 3 and HSkR1, as the skeleton was designated. The
interviewer, blonde and in her mid-thirties, named Carma Grey,
gingerly stepped over and peered at the remains as Trey introduced Bobbie and the two students.

"And this," he said, "is Dr. Lindsay Chamberlain. She's in
charge of all the skeletal excavation at the site. Dr. Chamberlain is
a professor of osteology at the University of Georgia. She also
works occasionally with local law enforcement in identifying
skeletal remains."

Lindsay stood, concentrating on not doing something dumb
like smoothing her hair, tugging at her clothes, or looking at the
man holding the camera on his shoulder. I hate this, she thought,
hoping her sentiments didn't show on her face. She smiled.

BOOK: LC 04 - Skeleton Crew
10.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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