Three men, all accused of piracy, were before him on their knees, guarded by troops from the fortress. They’d each petitioned for the Corrigador, the effective governor of Veracruz, to hear their cases personally.

“Gabriel Hernandez y Juarez,” Exposito said, sounding utterly bored. “You stand accused of piracy before His Majesty King Philip. You were caught aboard a pirate ship that was detained and captured by our fleet off the coast a week ago, one which had made several attempts to take His Majesty’s ships as prizes. What do you have to say in your defense?”

“Please, sir, please,” blubbered the man. “I apologize before you and before God, and I throw myself prostrate on your mercy. I was captured by those buccaneers when my ship was taken and forced into their service as a carpenter.”

Exposito perked up at this. “Oh? I know a thing or two about carpentry myself, you know,” he said. “The table before you wobbles. Go on, get up and try it.”

Hesitantly, Hernandez got up and tested Exposito’s small end table. It did in fact wobble.

“Tell me,” said Exposito. “How would you fix it?”

“Well, I suppose…um…well, that is to say‚Ķ” Hernandez stuttered.

“Bah,” said Exposito. “You expect me to believe pirates would impress a ‘carpenter’ who can’t even do such a simple task? You could glue a small disk to the bottom of the leg, or put in a wedge at the top.”

“Please, it is nervousness!” the accused man cried. “I was just about to suggest glue!”

“Take him away and hang him,” said Exposito with a wave of his arm. “A real carpenter would have noticed that the wobble was because one leg is on my rug.”

Wailing and blubbering, the man was removed.

“John Samuels, of England,” said Exposito to the second man, rolling the foreign name around between his high cheeks before spitting it out. “You stand accused of piracy before His Majesty King Philip. You and your skiff preyed on the fishermen out of the harbor until you ran aground. What have you to say in your defense?”

“I only stole a few fish, on account of I was starving,” said Samuels. “If a fisherman can’t even protect a few measly mackerel, what good’s he going to do in life? If anything, I was making the fishermen around here better by culling out the weak.”

“I see,” said Exposito. “But what does it mean for your theory that you were captured?”

“It means that my services are now at your Lordship’s disposal,” said Samuels. “If you’d put me to work for you, I’d make you stronger as well. But if you mean to hang me, even if only for a bit of sport, I’d ask that you get to it.”

“I like this man,” said Exposito. “A full pardon for him. See him escorted to the docks and issued orders as a pilot.”

“As your Lordship wills,” said Samuels. “Thank you for not wasting our time.”

Exposito dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “Jean Legrand, of France,” he said to the third. “You stand accused of piracy before His Majesty King Philip. You were found illegally trading in the port of Veracruz for lumber you illegally cut from His Majesty’s forests on Santo Domingo.”

“As I have told your brutish men at length,” Legrand said, “I was selling lumber from Saint-Domingue, which is rightfully part of the French crown as your own King has recognized.”

“And I hold that yours is an illegal occupation, one that is soon to be stamped out, regardless of what temporary concessions King Philip has made to his grandfather, your so-called king. Who are you to say otherwise?”

“Tell me then, how is a simple farmer to support himself when he has neither the land nor the slaves to grow sugarcane nor anything else of value, and is the sole support of his family?”

“That is not my concern,” said Exposito. “Take him away and hang him.”

“I protest!” cried Legrand. “I protest in the name of my King and my family!”

“Oh, very well,” said Exposito. “Hang him, but sell his ship and his cargo and give the proceeds to Ambassador La Croix. He may compensate this squatter’s family at his discretion, I suppose.”

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