By the time the coastline came into view, none of the crew could quite recall how long they had been at sea. They had come to measure the passage of time only by counting battles. And after months without making landfall, they had become the terror of all Spanish vessels in the New World. Hardly a man had been lost, and yet red crosses fell to the water like berries from a shaken tree.
The enemy crews would not surrender, yet they would not willingly fight, either. As soon as the black banner was raised, Spanish ships, whatever their class or armament, would flee in panic. And when the pirates boarded, that same panic was evident on the face of every man, even well-trained and seasoned soldiers. Yet every crew fought with blind zealotry, until their ships burned and sank into the sea.
The crew of the Vengeance was unconcerned with saving the cargo from their quarries. All this slaughter was only in service of reaching their destination, where the map proclaimed an unfathomable fortune awaited. And after battles that seemed more numerous than the stars in the sky, their captain declared they had found the spot, and ordered the crew ashore to dig.
They followed the map to a clearing but could not be sure of the precise location of the cache, nor its size. The men spread out and began to dig until all at once several of them announced a discovery: not wooden chests or loose stacks of gold bars, but the stinking remains of sailors with musket balls in their skulls and cutlass marks upon their bones.
Undeterred, they continued to dig and continued to turn up more corpses whose clothing, though badly decayed, struck the men as familiar. When the full extent of the mass grave came into view, some men began to whisper that the numbers in this slaughtered crew seemed to match their own. And as the whispers spread throughout the camp, a shared memory soon followed: a memory of having been in this place before, of having previously dug upon the same spot, of having looked up from the bottom of the pit to see the sneering faces of Spanish privateers who held their muskets at the ready in that moment before the crew of the Vengeance fell bleeding together and began to feel the dirt raining down upon them.
Standing in a circle around the uncovered bodies, the crew looked around at one another’s sallow faces and found that suddenly, the terror of their enemy crews made more sense. So too did their own seeming invincibility, as well as the map’s promise of a treasure that could not be quantified: the treasure of freedom.