The Viper's Bite

This is a continuation of the story started in The Spanish Main.


The Devil’s Daughter was again docked in Darién. The previous work on the bulwark had been for naught since the raid on The Isabella, while successful in a monetary sense, had proven to be quite difficult. They had been outnumbered three to one and the battle raged for two days. The Devil’s Daughter had taken a lot of damage, most of it minor, and had lost one of her crew. The Spanish carrack fared far worse though, and in the end, the Spaniards scuttled their ship, the crew moving away on longboats and dinghies. Captain Pollock let them be so that they might bring more wealth in the future. The only good Spaniard is one who sails with treasure.

The Devil’s Daughter had stored as much gold in her holds as she could manage, but there was too much of it to haul. The crew took care to note the location of the lagan’s buoys just as the Spaniards did. It was simply a matter of who made it back first to resurrect the sunken gold.

The larboard bulwark of the Devil’s Daughter was again destroyed, but this time, she had begun to take on water, what was left of the gunwhale lay in splinters on the deck and the gaff had snapped in half. Pollock was glad he hadn’t killed the Spanish sutler on his last trip to port since he managed excellent repair work. They had no choice but to dock in Portobelo for several weeks.

The Captain and his crew had to amuse themselves onshore. The Darién Gap was a mixing pot of Cueva and Kuna Indians, Spaniards, Central, South and North Americans, and Europeans. If you couldn’t find what your heart desired in Portobelo, you just weren’t thinking hard enough. Anything could be had there from the exotic to the mundane.

The crew of the Devil’s Daughter had already established their favorite watering hole in past visits and spent much of their time there. The Viper’s Bite served a kind of fermented alcohol, the namesake of the bar, native to the local Indians. Its recipe was kept in the strictest secrecy. If you weren’t Cueva, you would never know how to make it. Some said it was made from cassava, some said it was actually made from the venom of poisonous snakes.

The Viper’s Bite was owned and operated by a Cueva man who employed Cueva women, but its only customers were foreigners. Pollock supposed that, if you were Cueva, you would already know how to make the infernal concoction so you didn’t need to drink there. The Viper’s Bite was liquid fire. It felt like ingesting the sun. It went straight to your head and even the stoutest of men could drink only two of them before passing out cleanly.

Pollock became a regular there. At first, it was for lack of anything better to do, but he had become accustomed to the Viper’s Bite and soon found himself at home. It didn’t hurt that one of the Cueva women had caught his eye. She looked very much like the figurehead on his sloop and he had to have her. Normally, the captain would never pay for a wench. He considered it unseemly and against the pirate code, but he set about private negotiations with the owner anyway.

After much pestering and an offer of more gold than the Cueva man could sanely refuse, they struck a surreptitious bargain. When the Devil’s Daughter was repaired, the Cueva woman would be his. In the meantime, Pollock continued going to the Viper’s Bite and tried his best to win the wench. “I’ll toss your tempests, lassy!” said the Captain enthusiastically to the girl, whose name it had not occurred to him to learn. She treated his advances with the stinkeye. He had little experience with winning women since he usually just took what he wanted. Pollock was not what rational people would consider to be charming in the traditional sense, though he was not without his own brand of charm and mirth. He consoled himself by supposing that she just didn’t speak English well. There was plenty of time as she would soon be his.

When the Devil’s Daughter was making ready to sail, the Cueva woman was brought to the sloop. The crew was more than a little surprised. To try to salvage his reputation Pollock explained, “She’s a Cueva and therefore knows the secret of the Viper’s Bite. I have every intention of getting the information out of her. In the meantime, she’ll be perfect for the galley. Make a bilge rat of her for now.” Two of his hands grabbed the girl and took her abast to the hold.

Having a woman on board was bad luck. Everyone knew it. The crew tried to quell their apprehension and didn’t question it since it’d been a while since the Captain had desired something besides gold.

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