The lookout squinted. In the east, a horizon-hugging bank of clouds glowed red, heralding the imminent sunrise. In the west, the sky was a deep azure, with only a few stars still glimmering. Below his perch was a dark skeleton of masts and spars.
He turned to the north. He saw naught but water and air, but he knew that somewhere beyond the horizon lay the shimmering sands of the Costa de la Luz, the Coast of Light.
At the periphery of his vision, a flash of white caught his eye. It was gone before he could snap his head around. A phantasm? A wave breaking? He wasn't sure. There it was again!
"A sail, a sail!" he cried. "East northeast. Hull down." Whether the sighting meant profit, or peril, or a measure of each, he knew not.
By now, the lookout had a sense of its movement. "Heading west north west."
On the deck far below, Captain Jan Janszoon smiled. "It appears that this cruise won't be boring, after all." He pulled out a spyglass—it had been taken off a Venetian prize, and was worth its weight in gold—and made his own observations.
The mystery ship was maintaining its westward course, edging closer to Janszoon. It didn't turn, either to flee, or to reach Janszoon more quickly. Clearly, it hadn't detected their presence. No surprise, that; Janszoon's vessel had furled its sails at the first hint of dawn.
Janszoon studied the visitor. "Merchanter," he announced at last. "A big one." The men whooped.
"Set sail, just the lower courses for the nonce." That would make it harder for the prey to spot them, but they would also make less speed. "Vargas, we head north." The helmsman nodded. That would give them fast legs, and, given their windward position, it would be difficult for their prey to escape to the west. "Oh, and Pieter, raise the Spanish flag. Who knows? They might be idiots and come ask us for news."
Time passed; the ships converged. The merchanter seemed to sail well, close-hauled, which implied she had a full load. More good news.
At last, with the range down to perhaps ten miles, Janszoon saw a reaction. The trader put on every scrap of canvas it had, even its studding sails. Plainly, it didn't think he was a countryman, come for a friendly chat. What a pity.
Putting on that much sail was dangerous, too. The strong southwesterly wind of the Gulf of Cadiz, the vendavale, could knock down a crowded mast.
Clearly, the merchant hoped he could escape to the open sea. Janszoon would not allow it. "Make fighting sail," he commanded. "And lay us four points to starboard." That wasn't the quite the shortest interception course, but it would make it more difficult for the prey to clap on the wind and get on Janszoon's weather side, where it might more readily give him the slip.
Soon they were close enough to hail it. "From whence came ye, and where are you bound?"
"From Venice, bound for Cadiz. And you?"
Janszoon was delighted by the answer. The target was clearly a Spaniard. "From the Sea, and bound for Hell!" he shouted. "Pieter, show them who we are."
Pieter grinned. He knew the drill. The false flag came down, and two new ones went up. The first was the standard of the Prince of Orange, the leader of the Dutch people in the fight against the Spanish. The second would give them even greater pause.
The feared emblem of the Sallee Rovers, a gold man-in-the-moon on a red background, soon fluttered above the head of Jan Janszoon . . . Murad Reis, the infamous Renegado. On the deck of his xebec, his corsairs ran out their cannon and raised their muskets, ready to do battle if the merchant refused to yield.
Janszoon was Haarlem born and, like many of his fellows, had taken to the sea at an early age. He disdained the merchant life from the beginning, choosing to serve on one privateer or another, and thus mixing patriotism with profit. In 1618, while enjoying some R&R at Lanzarote, in the Canaries, he was snagged by Algerian raiders. Learning of his experience, the captain, Suleyman Reis, gave him the choice of being sold on the slave block or turning pirate and serving as one of his officers. To Janszoon, it wasn't a hard choice at all.