“I have spoken to the men in port, at a congress of my fellow-captains,” said Ramirez. “It is a direct violation of Viceroy Balthazar’s orders, but none of the men seemed to think that was of great importance.”

“Wonderful,” Exposito cackled. “What a glorious piece of providence to give me the services of someone so able as you, Ramirez! What did they say?”

“Most of them have been aboard, or known someone who has been aboard, a ship with the so-called Spanish plate and Spanish guns,” said Ramirez. “They consider such things essential for the continued survival of the empire in the face of its many enemies. You can rely on the fleet commanders, and the few that are untrustworthy may find themselves set aside in favor of their seconds.”

“Brilliant, simply brilliant!” laughed Exposito. “They know as I do that good, obedient boys rarely are able to do what is necessary. What about you, Samuels?”

The pirate smirked. “Well, I saw to it that Balthazar’s message never made it to Delgado. I had to slit a throat or two, after I’d drank my fill of course, as you showed me.”

“They were no trouble?”

“No man is trouble for me anymore,” Samuels said with a very grim smile.

“None but me, anyhow,” said Exposito. “Pretend you didn’t hear that if you must,” he added as an aside to Ramirez. “Those were Spanish couriers, yes, but their screaming deaths were necessary for the greater good.”

“I don’t agree with your…unsettling methods,” said Ramirez. “And, if I may speak frankly, I find your affect rather off-putting. But your course is a win for the empire, one it sorely needs. I would rather put my faith in a man I don’t agree with that I think will bring glory to Spain.”

“And well-spoken at that!” chortled Exposito. “I make no compromises, Ramirez. Your reasons are your own, but I do expect your full loyalty. Do I have it?”

“You are what is best for the empire, and that has my loyalty,” said Ramirez.

“Ambiguous phrasing! Divine,” Exposito laughed. “I accept. The Fifth Sun will dawn, and it will be thanks to the empire that the new age is a thing of beauty and peace!”

“All that remains is that you go see Delgado then?” said Samuels cautiously.

“Yes, the remainder of the Viceroy’s Very Own Philosophers have their uses in the practical points, but Don Delgado is the key to our scheme. We must know what he knows. I will go there personally and deal with it myself.”

“Does that mean,” Ramirez said, “that the ships of the fleet will be granted the protection that was stripped from my poor Magdalena?”

“Yes, that and more,” Exposito said. “If you’ll excuse me.”

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