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Shōgun, Page 2

James Clavell

  He went into the great cabin. The Captain-General, Paulus Spillbergen, was lying half conscious in his bunk. He was a short, florid man, normally very fat, now very thin, the skin of his paunch hanging slackly in folds. Blackthorne took a water flagon out of a secret drawer and helped him drink a little.

  “Thanks,” Spillbergen said weakly. “Where’s land—where’s land?”

  “Ahead,” he replied, no longer believing it, then put the flagon away, closed his ears to the whines and left, hating him anew.

  Almost exactly a year ago they had reached Tierra del Fuego, the winds favorable for the stab into the unknown of Magellan’s Pass. But the Captain-General had ordered a landing to search for gold and treasure.

  “Christ Jesus, look ashore, Captain-General! There’s no treasure in those wastes.”

  “Legend says it’s rich with gold and we can claim the land for the glorious Netherlands.”

  “The Spaniards have been here in strength for fifty years.”

  “Perhaps—but perhaps not this far south, Pilot-Major.”

  “This far south the seasons’re reversed. May, June, July, August’re dead winter here. The rutter says the timing’s critical to get through the Straits—the winds turn in a few weeks, then we’ll have to stay here, winter here for months.”

  “How many weeks, Pilot?”

  “The rutter says eight. But seasons don’t stay the same—”

  “Then we’ll explore for a couple of weeks. That gives us plenty of time and then, if necessary, we’ll go north again and sack a few more towns, eh, gentlemen?”

  “We’ve got to try now, Captain-General. The Spanish have very few warships in the Pacific. Here the seas are teeming with them and they’re looking for us. I say we’ve got to go on now.”

  But the Captain-General had overridden him and put it to a vote of the other captains—not to the other pilots, one English and three Dutch—and had led the useless forays ashore.

  The winds had changed early that year and they had had to winter there, the Captain-General afraid to go north because of Spanish fleets. It was four months before they could sail. By then one hundred and fifty-six men in the fleet had died of starvation, cold, and the flux and they were eating the calfskin that covered the ropes. The terrible storms within the Strait had scattered the fleet. Erasmus was the only ship that made the rendezvous off Chile. They had waited a month for the others and then, the Spaniards closing in, had set sail into the unknown. The secret rutter stopped at Chile.

  Blackthorne walked back along the corridor and unlocked his own cabin door, relocking it behind him. The cabin was low-beamed, small, and orderly, and he had to stoop as he crossed to sit at his desk. He unlocked a drawer and carefully unwrapped the last of the apples he had hoarded so carefully all the way from Santa Maria Island, off Chile. It was bruised and tiny, with mold on the rotting section. He cut off a quarter. There were a few maggots inside. He ate them with the flesh, heeding the old sea legend that the apple maggots were just as effective against scurvy as the fruit and that, rubbed into the gums, they helped prevent your teeth from falling out. He chewed the fruit gently because his teeth were aching and his gums sore and tender, then sipped water from the wine skin. It tasted brackish. Then he wrapped the remainder of the apple and locked it away.

  A rat scurried in the shadows cast by the hanging oil lantern over his head. Timbers creaked pleasantly. Cockroaches swarmed on the floor.

  I’m tired. I’m so tired.

  He glanced at his bunk. Long, narrow, the straw palliasse inviting.

  I’m so tired.

  Go to sleep for this hour, the devil half of him said. Even for ten minutes—and you’ll be fresh for a week. You’ve had only a few hours for days now, and most of that aloft in the cold. You must sleep. Sleep. They rely on you….

  “I won’t, I’ll sleep tomorrow,” he said aloud, and forced his hand to unlock his chest and take out his rutter. He saw that the other one, the Portuguese one, was safe and untouched and that pleased him. He took a clean quill and began to write: “April 21 1600. Fifth hour. Dusk. 133d day from Santa Maria Island, Chile, on the 32 degree North line of latitude. Sea still high and wind strong and the ship rigged as before. The color of the sea dull gray-green and bottomless. We are still running before the wind along a course of 270 degrees, veering to North North West, making way briskly, about two leagues, each of three miles this hour. Large reefs shaped like a triangle Were sighted at half the hour bearing North East by North half a league distant.

  “Three men died in the night of the scurvy—Joris sailmaker, Reiss gunner, 2d mate de Haan. After commending their souls to God, the Captain-General still being sick, I cast them into the sea without shrouds, for there was no one to make them. Today Bosun Rijckloff died.

  “I could not take the declension of the sun at noon today, again due to overcast. But I estimate we are still on course and that landfall in the Japans should be soon….

  “But how soon?” he asked the sea lantern that hung above his head, swaying with the pitch of the ship. How to make a chart? There must be a way, he told himself for the millionth time. How to set longitude? There must be a way. How to keep vegetables fresh? What is scurvy…?

  “They say it’s a flux from the sea, boy,” Alban Caradoc had said. He was a huge-bellied, great-hearted man with a tangled gray beard.

  “But could you boil the vegetables and keep the broth?”

  “It sickens, lad. No one’s ever discovered a way to store it.”

  “They say that Francis Drake sails soon.”

  “No. You can’t go, boy.”

  “I’m almost fourteen. You let Tim and Watt sign on with him and he needs apprentice pilots.”

  “They’re sixteen. You’re just thirteen.”

  “They say he’s going to try for Magellan’s Pass, then up the coast to the unexplored region—to the Californias—to find the Straits of Anian that join Pacific with Atlantic. From the Californias all the way to Newfoundland, the Northwest Passage at long last …”

  “The supposed Northwest Passage, lad. No one’s proved that legend yet.”

  “He will. He’s Admiral now and we’ll be the first English ship through Magellan’s Pass, the first in the Pacific, the first—I’ll never get another chance like this.”

  “Oh, yes, you will, and he’ll never breach Magellan’s secret way ’less he can steal a rutter or capture a Portuguese pilot to guide him through. How many times must I tell you—a pilot must have patience. Learn patience, boy. You’ve plen—”




  “Because he’ll be gone two, three years, perhaps more. The weak and the young will get the worst of the food and the least of the water. And of the five ships that go, only his will come back. You’ll never survive, boy.”

  “Then I’ll sign for his ship only. I’m strong. He’ll take me!”

  “Listen, boy, I was with Drake in Judith, his fifty tonner, at San Juan de Ulua when we and Admiral Hawkins—he was in Minion—when we fought our way out of harbor through the dung-eating Spaniards. We’d been trading slaves from Guinea to the Spanish Main, but we had no Spanish license for the trade and they tricked Hawkins and trapped our fleet. They’d thirteen great ships, we six. We sank three of theirs, and they sank our Swallow, Angel, Caravelle, and the Jesus of Lubeck. Oh, yes, Drake fought us out of the trap and brought us home. With eleven men aboard to tell the tale. Hawkins had fifteen. Out of four hundred and eight jolly Jack Tars. Drake is merciless, boy. He wants glory and gold, but only for Drake, and too many men are dead proving it.”

  “But I won’t die. I’ll be one of—”

  “No. You’re apprenticed for twelve years. You’ve ten more to go and then you’re free. But until that time, until 1588, you’ll learn how to build ships and how to command them—you’ll obey Alban Caradoc, Master Shipwright and Pilot and Member of Trinity House, or you’ll never have a license. And if you don’t have a l
icense, you’ll never pilot any ship in English waters, you’ll never command the quarterdeck of any English ship in any waters because that was good King Harry’s law, God rest his soul. It was the great whore Mary Tudor’s law, may her soul burn in hell, it’s the Queen’s law, may she reign forever, it’s England’s law, and the best sea law that’s ever been.”

  Blackthorne remembered how he had hated his master then, and hated Trinity House, the monopoly created by Henry VIII in 1514 for the training and licensing of all English pilots and masters, and hated his twelve years of semibondage, without which he knew he could never get the one thing in the world he wanted. And he had hated Alban Caradoc even more when, to everlasting glory, Drake and his hundred-ton sloop, the Golden Hind had miraculously come back to England after disappearing for three years, the first English ship to circumnavigate the globe, bringing with her the richest haul of plunder aboard ever brought back to those shores: an incredible million and a half sterling in gold, silver, spices, and plate.

  That four of the five ships were lost and eight out of every ten men were lost and Tim and Watt were lost and a captured Portuguese pilot had led the expedition for Drake through the Magellan into the Pacific did not assuage his hatred; that Drake had hanged one officer, excommunicated the chaplain Fletcher, and failed to find the Northwest Passage did not detract from national admiration. The Queen took fifty percent of the treasure and knighted him. The gentry and merchants who had put up the money for the expedition received three hundred percent profit and pleaded to underwrite his next corsair voyage. And all seamen begged to sail with him, because he did get plunder, he did come home, and, with their share of the booty, the lucky few who survived were rich for life.

  I would have survived, Blackthorne told himself. I would. And my share of the treasure then would have been enough to—

  “Rotz vooruiiiiiiiit!” Reef ahead!

  He felt the cry at first more than he heard it. Then, mixed with the gale, he heard the wailing scream again.

  He was out of the cabin and up the companionway onto the quarterdeck, his heart pounding, his throat parched. It was dark night now and pouring, and he was momentarily exulted for he knew that the canvas raintraps, made so many weeks ago, would soon be full to overflowing. He opened his mouth to the near horizontal rain and tasted its sweetness, then turned his back on the squall.

  He saw that Hendrik was paralyzed with terror. The bow lookout, Maetsukker, cowered near the prow, shouting incoherently, pointing ahead. Then he too looked beyond the ship.

  The reef was barely two hundred yards ahead, great black claws of rocks pounded by the hungry sea. The foaming line of surf stretched port and starboard, broken intermittently. The gale was lifting huge swathes of spume and hurling them at the night blackness. A forepeak halliard snapped and the highest top gallant spar was carried away. The mast shuddered in its bed but held, and the sea bore the ship inexorably to its death.

  “All hands on deck!” Blackthorne shouted, and rang the bell violently.

  The noise brought Hendrik out of his stupor. “We’re lost!” he screamed in Dutch. “Oh, Lord Jesus help us!”

  “Get the crew on deck, you bastard! You’ve been asleep! You’ve both been asleep!” Blackthorne shoved him toward the companion-way, held onto the wheel, slipped the protecting lashing from the spokes, braced himself, and swung the wheel hard aport.

  He exerted all his strength as the rudder bit into the torrent. The whole ship shuddered. Then the prow began to swing with increasing velocity as the wind bore down and soon they were broadside to the sea and the wind. The storm topsails bellied and gamely tried to carry the weight of the ship and all the ropes took the strain, howling. The following sea towered above them and they were making way, parallel to the reef, when he saw the great wave. He shouted a warning at the men who were coming from the fo’c’sle, and hung on for his life.

  The sea fell on the ship and she heeled and he thought they’d floundered but she shook herself like a wet terrier and swung out of the trough. Water cascaded away through the scuppers and he gasped for air. He saw that the corpse of the bosun that had been put on deck for burial tomorrow was gone and that the following wave was coming in even stronger. It caught Hendrik and lifted him, gasping and struggling, over the side and out to sea. Another wave roared across the deck and Blackthorne locked one arm through the wheel and the water passed him by. Now Hendrik was fifty yards to port. The wash sucked him back alongside, then a giant comber threw him high above the ship, held him there for a moment shrieking, then took him away and pulped him against a rock spine and consumed him.

  The ship nosed into the sea trying to make way. Another halliard gave and the block and tackle swung wildly until it tangled with the rigging.

  Vinck and another man pulled themselves onto the quarterdeck and leaned on the wheel to help. Blackthorne could see the encroaching reef to starboard, nearer now. Ahead and to port were more outcrops, but he saw gaps here and there.

  “Get aloft, Vinck. Foresails ho!” Foot by foot Vinck and two seamen hauled themselves into the shrouds of the foremast rigging as others, below, leaned on the ropes to give them a hand.

  “Watch out for’ard,” Blackthorne shouted.

  The sea foamed along the deck and took another man with it and brought the corpse of the bosun aboard again. The bow soared out of the water and smashed down once more bringing more water aboard. Vinck and the other men cursed the sail out of its ropes. Abruptly it fell open, cracked like a cannonade as the wind filled it, and the ship lurched.

  Vinck and his helpers hung there, swaying over the sea, then began their descent.

  “Reef—reef ahead!” Vinck screamed.

  Blackthorne and the other man swung the wheel to starboard. The ship hesitated then turned and cried out as the rocks, barely awash, found the side of the ship. But it was an oblique blow and the rock nose crumbled. The timbers held safe and the men aboard began to breathe once more.

  Blackthorne saw a break in the reef ahead and committed the ship to it. The wind was harder now, the sea more furious. The ship swerved with a gust and the wheel spun out of their hands. Together they grabbed it and set her course again, but she bobbed and twisted drunkenly. Sea flooded aboard and burst into the fo’c’sle, smashing one man against the bulkhead, the whole deck awash like the one above.

  “Man the pumps!” Blackthorne shouted. He saw two men go below.

  The rain was slashing his face and he squinted against the pain. The binnacle light and aft riding light had long since been extinguished. Then as another gust shoved the ship farther off course, the seaman slipped and again the wheel spun out of their grasp. The man shrieked as a spoke smashed the side of his head and he lay there at the mercy of the sea. Blackthorne pulled him up and held him until the frothing comber had passed. Then he saw that the man was dead so he let him slump into the seachair and the next sea cleaned the quarterdeck of him.

  The gulch through the reef was three points to windward and, try as he could, Blackthorne could not gain way. He searched desperately for another channel but knew there was none, so he let her fall off from the wind momentarily to gain speed, then swung her hard to windward again. She gained way a fraction and held course.

  There was a wailing, tormented shudder as the keel scraped the razor spines below and all aboard imagined they saw the oak timbers burst apart and the sea flood in. The ship reeled forward out of control now.

  Blackthorne shouted for help but no one heard him so he fought the wheel alone against the sea. Once he was flung aside but he groped back and held on again, wondering in his thickening mind how the rudder had survived so long.

  In the neck of the pass the sea became a maelstrom, driven by the tempest and hemmed in by the rocks. Huge waves smashed at the reef, then reeled back to fight the incomer until the waves fought among themselves and attacked on all quarters of the compass. The ship was sucked into the vortex, broadside and helpless.

  “Piss on you, storm!” Blackt
horne raged. “Get your dung-eating hands off my ship!”

  The wheel spun again and threw him away and the deck heeled sickeningly. The bowsprit caught a rock and tore loose, part of the rigging with it, and she righted herself. The foremast was bending like a bow and it snapped. The men on deck fell on the rigging with axes to cut it adrift as the ship floundered down the raging channel. They hacked the mast free and it went over the side and one man went with it, caught in the tangled mess. The man cried out, trapped, but there was nothing they could do and they watched as he and the mast appeared and disappeared alongside, then came back no more.

  Vinck and the others who were left looked back at the quarterdeck and saw Blackthorne defying the storm like a madman. They crossed themselves and doubled their prayers, some weeping with fear, and hung on for life.

  The strait broadened for an instant and the ship slowed, but ahead it narrowed ominously again and the rocks seemed to grow, to tower over them. The current ricocheted off one side, taking the ship with it, turned her abeam again and flung her to her doom.

  Blackthorne stopped cursing the storm and fought the wheel to port and hung there, his muscles knotted against the strain. But the ship knew not her rudder and neither did the sea.

  “Turn, you whore from hell,” he gasped, his strength ebbing fast. “Help me!”

  The sea race quickened and he felt his heart near bursting but still he strained against the press of the sea. He tried to keep his eyes focused but his vision reeled, the colors wrong and fading. The ship was in the neck and dead but just then the keel scraped a mud shoal. The shock turned her head. The rudder bit into the sea. And then the wind and the sea joined to help and together they spun her before the wind and she sped through the pass to safety. Into the bay beyond.



  Blackthorne was suddenly awake. For a moment he thought he was dreaming because he was ashore and the room unbelievable. It was small and very clean and covered with soft mats. He was lying on a thick quilt and another was thrown over him. The ceiling was polished cedar and the walls were lathes of cedar, in squares, covered with an opaque paper that muted the light pleasantly. Beside him was a scarlet tray bearing small bowls. One contained cold cooked vegetables and he wolfed them, hardly noticing the piquant taste. Another contained a fish soup and he drained that. Another was filled with a thick porridge of wheat or barley and he finished it quickly, eating with his fingers. The water in an odd-shaped gourd was warm and tasted curious—slightly bitter but savory.