Mercy, senor!" The fear-crazed Spanish noblewoman fell on her knees before the huge mestizo who towered over her.
Juan de Sangre, the corsair known to history as El Diablo, looked at the groveling senorita contemptuously, then he turned impatiently to her maid. He eyed her approvingly. Her over-ripe Latin voluptuousness was of a type that particularly appealed to him.
"On your knees," thundered the pirate.
Why not make me, senor?" The girl tossed her pretty head coquettishly.
Smack. . . a vicious back-hander sent her reeling to the deck.
"I see that I must teach you respect," he said, noting a first flicker of interest in the girl's hot eyes.
Her name was Carmen Montero, and her mistress was Maria Isabel de Talamanca, only daughter of the Marques de Santa Flora, Viceroy of His Most Catholic Majesty King Philip III.
The caravel carrying the two girls to Spain had been about three hundred miles southwest of Santo Domingo when El Diablo's dark-shrouded vessel had loomed up on them out of the mist.
"Pirates!" the lookout had yelled, awakening Maria out of her beauty sleep. But his warning cry had turned to a gurgling scream as flying grape-shot tore out his guts.
The fight had been short, swift. Even as brutal hands dragged Maria and Carmen onto the gore-spattered deck, the butchered corpses of the caravel's crew were being flung to the sharks.
Now they lay on the bloody planks: Carmen hot-eyed, aroused, excited by the bloodshed; her mistress mad with panic, a picture of fear.
The sight of her made the big mestizo's cruel lips twist in contempt.
Seizing the young noblewoman by the hair, he jerked her forward onto her hands and knees. "Get up, you Spanish sow," he snarled. Shaking like a leaf, Maria obeyed.
The pirate's eyes took in the full curve of her plump thighs, the soft swell of her belly, her half-naked breasts straining against the shimmering satin of her nightdress.
He licked his thick, sensuous lips and wondered how she would behave when he handed her over to his butchers. Then he turned his gaze once again on her maid.
The man was a giant—all, solid, whipcord muscle. But it was his eyes that sent shiver of masochistic excitement through Carmen's sex-hungry body: they were cruel and cat-green, and fixed on her intently.
She felt them linger on the full, lush undersides of her bosom where her dress fabric hugged tight.
Then the gaze dropped, as the Magnetic eyes seemed to devour her fleshy hips and thighs, the almost impudent upthrust of her buttocks.
"You approve, senor?" Her smile was an open invitation.
The mestizo stepped forward and grabbed her dress in his fist.
Like a stock-breeder handling a piece of horseflesh, he lifted and stared at her black stocking tops, her garters, and the hint of intimate white flesh revealed in the shadowed sunlight.
Then he dropped the hem and leaned back on the heels of his leather sea-boots.
"For shame, Carmen!"
Involuntarily, the exclamation escaped Maria's trembling lips. Then seeing the rage in El Diablo's face, she cowered back in terror.
The big pirate's reaction was immediate and brutal.
He struck her, smashing his huge fist against her fragile jaw so that she wrenched back like a twisted marionette.
"Si senor, you hit her." Carmen's voice was eager.
The mestizo grinned at her.
"You enjoy seeing your mistress hurt?"
Then Carmen spoke.
"What do you say, senor? I know how to be nice . . . how to be very nice."
She pointed a quivering finger at Maria.
"As for her," she hissed viciously, "I'd enjoy seeing her roasted alive!"
Slowly the full horror of what her maid was saying penetrated Maria's mind. For a moment anger overcame her fear.
"You ungrateful little slut. Wait till we get back to Spain."
"Quiet! Make the bitch keep quiet." Carmen clutched the pirate's arm.
Thwack. . . "Ahhh!"
This time Maria staggered back onto the deck.
"That's right, kick her, beat her, make her crawl." Carmen's tone was venomous.
She licked her top lip with the tip of her tongue.
"Want me to describe what I'd like to see you do to her?"
The pirate's arm was like a coiled python around her waist.
"Tell me," he said.
Lying heaped on the deck, her back wrenched by sobs of mind-numbing horror, Maria could hardly believe that the girl she heard speaking was her servant.
She could not believe that the vile, sadistic suggestions pouring like dark rot from Carmen's red lips were being spoken by the girl she had accepted as her personal maid and companion.
And yet, as the utterly depraved syllables defiled the clean morning air, Maria knew that it was Carmen who spoke them . . . knew at last in the depths of her outraged mind just what kind of a sadistic pervert this pretty Valencian was.
At last the foul monologue came to a painting end.
Distantly the wind soughed through the rigging.
El Diablo stroked Carmen softly like a cat.
"So, my pigeon, it's blood you want," he growled.
Then, nodding to one of the half-naked pirates crowded around Maria, he snarled, "Take her below."
Tortuga was a natural haven for pirates.
All about was the mystery of the tropics, the sensation of never-ceasing life; creeping; stalking, flying everywhere.
Life primeval and intense . . . hunting man and hunting beast. . . gleam of bared fangs and glint of steel blade . . many scented with the languorous odor of exotic blooms, musical with the hum of multi-colored insects.
Gay-plumaged birds flew over its lush jungle, flamingoes and herons splashed in the shallows of its inland lake. And before the coral reefs that guarded its sheltering cove, the black, sinister dorsal fins of tiger sharks criss-crossed the glassy surface of the sea.
It was this deadly paradise that El Diablo had chosen for his base.
For years Castillian warships had ranged the Main, hunting this sadistic monster.
And all agreed that his sobriquet, "The Devil," was well chosen. For in a few short years he had spread terror throughout Hispaniola—sinking ships, sacking towns, and turning over scores of haughty Spanish senoritas to the tender mercies of his flesh-craving crew.
"God help the poor child," exclaimed the Viceroy, when informed some months later of his daughter's disappearance. But even he never guessed at the time the utter bestiality of her fate.
After El Diablo's ship had laid, anchor, Maria had been taken ashore and flung into a dung-filled stockade.
There, thrown together like animals, were the women captured by the savage corsairs. All had one thing in common—they were ladies, aristocrats.
Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish noblewomen swept from the blood-stained decks of ships, the blazing homes of towns, lived here like pigs.
Naked and ashamed, they squatted on filthy straw to await whatever fate was in store for them.
They did not have to wait long.
In Maria's case it was three days and nights.
Just before midnight they came for her.
The night was moonless, but the unclouded stars thinned the darkness so that the bulks of pines lining the shore were just distinguishable.
They took her to a cave flooded with reddish light.
It seemed to be red from top to bottom—everything red, burning the eyeballs, like a great bowl of blood.
But it was not this that made Maria catch her breath in horror and disgust.
It was what she saw turning, slowly turning over a pit of glowing embers—the squirming, scorched body of a young girl.
Now she understood what was going to happen to her, and the sheer horror of it made her faint with terror. El Diablo and his men were worse than pirates, they were cannibals.
Icy fear stabbed her heart and she began to struggle wildly.
As in a nightmare she saw her maid, Carmen, lying at El Diablo's feet. She was virtually naked, though, as a grotesque detail, Maria noted she wore black silk stockings fastened by indecent-looking garters of scarlet lace.
With mounting horror she saw that Carmen was laughing at the hideous moans made by the girl roasting on the spit.
As they dragged her nearer the grisly scene, Maria began to fight like an animal.
But her guards held her as easily as if she had been a little child.
Carmen saw her and shrieked with glee. "To the fire with the bitch," she screeched.
Around Maria pressed a pack of flesh-hungry ghouls.
They prodded her plump body approvingly, muttering obscenities among themselves. If they had, in fact, been nothing more than naked savages, it would have been horrible enough. But because they were partly European, were dressed in European clothes, the scene took on an added touch of horror.
Carmen's enjoyment rose to fever pitch as Maria's guards ripped off the remnants of her torn nightdress, exposing her feminine curves to the pirates lecherous gaze.
She was moaning for mercy now, ready to do anything to save herself from the agony of the fire.
But the pirates ignored her pleadings, howled with laughter at her pitiful struggles.
"Listen to the sow squeal," Carmen gloated.
"Get on with it, the other one's nearly done," she hissed to the beasts holding Maria.
Immediately they swung into action. While two of them held her, a third bound her arms and legs tightly together. They then flung her on the ground.
Poles were placed through the thongs that held her wrists and ankles, and the young noblewoman, screaming and struggling like a pig in a slaughter house, was hung in place from brackets that stood over a shallow pit.
Several pirates ran forward with wood and straw, piling it high enough so that it reached within inches of Maria's bulging body.
El Diablo prodded Carmen with his toe.
"Go, my pigeon," he cried. "Light the fire. Show my men that you are indeed the Devil's own."
"With pleasure," she chuckled, standing up, almost nude in the red firelight.
A silence fell over the pirates, as they looked in admiration at this sadistic beauty whose cruelty and bestiality was to match their own.
Lines of flickering light crept over her ivory skin, starting at her ankles, moving up her long, silken legs and thighs, over the curve of her belly, and across the rosy mounds of her breasts.
She started forward toward where Maria was hanging with an indolent, hip-rolling walk.
A pirate handed her a flaming torch.
"No . ." Maria shrieked, her eyes bulging almost out of their sockets.
But Carmen's red lips only parted in a smile, as gently she tossed the torch among the sticks and tinder under Maria's naked body.
The pyre blazed up immediately. The young Spanish noblewoman was being roasted alive.
Carmen laughed gleefully at the ghastly shrieks of pain that came from her agonized mistress.
Methodically, every few minutes, as if she were roasting a sucking pig, she leaned forward and turned the spit.
She watched with growing pleasure as Maria's white skin turned first red then brown.
Maria took an eternity to die over the smoldering embers. It must have been an unimaginably agonizing death. But at long last, mercifully, her body sagged.
An eyewitness description of this gruesome atrocity was later obtained from a certain Jose Tacuna, one of El Diablo's cannibal crew.
As his bones split and cracked on the wheel, he spewed out descriptions so horrible, so revoltingly inhuman, that even the callous Spanish torturers grew pale.
He told how El Diablo would let Carmen select two or three lovely captives from his private harem. The girls would often be bathed, perfumed, and dressed in plundered silks and then taken to the cave where Maria had met her horrible end.
But generally they were not taken there to be butchered—immediately!
Instead, they would be the pirate's guests for dinner.
As the girls sighed with relief, their sighs would turn to gasps of horror as the meal was served.
Smiling at the nauseated expressions of his sickened lust slaves, El Diablo would explain to them that whichever one of them pleased him least that night would be roasted alive the following evening.
Numb with horror, the terrified young ladies outdid one another to gratify this sadistic degenerate.
Properly raised Spanish gentlewomen, even young nuns, dredged into their imaginations in an attempt to stave off the agony of the fire.
And if their imaginations failed them, there was always the lascivious Carmen to suggest new unprintable acts laughing at their utter humiliation.
But no matter how hard they tried, there always came a time when the rapacious monster grew bored.
Unendurable pleasure infinitely prolonged was the perfection he craved, and the only one who came near to achieving this was the lovely and sadistic Carmen herself.
According to Tacuna, she was the only one of his captives to escape Maria's loathsome end. All the others were eventually roasted and eaten.
For well over a decade, this vicious killer of the sea turned Hispaniola into one great slaughter house of nightmare horror.
Then his craving for succulent, feminine flesh led him to go too far.
On August 22, 1620, the Royal Spanish galleon, Santa Maria, ostensibly carrying a score of noble young senoritas from Porto Bello to Cadiz, fell in with El Diablo's sinister craft.
Word of the galleon's cargo of pulchritude had reached the pirate through his network of spies. And this, plus the fact that the ship's holds were undoubtedly loaded with gold, led him into a trap.
For the Santa Maria was Spain's fastest and most heavily-armed warship; and on that August morning, no girls reclined in her cabins, nor was there any gold in her holds.
Instead, she carried a double complement of tough Spanish soldiery, and nearly three times the normal number of cannon.
Cutting gently to lar'board, so as not to lose too much head, the Santa Maria faced her starboard to the approaching pirate and let him have a broadside.
El Diablo's vessel shuddered from stem to stern as the Spaniard's deadly discharge smashed into his hull.
Then the pirate's guns answered, but in doing so, he lost too much head and the Santa Maria gained, even as she leaned to starboard, causing El Diablo's balls to miss.
Bringing herself around, the galleon fired another murderous broadside, again causing great damage aboard the pirate ship.
"Break off and run," El Diablo roared. And Carmen grew pale, as for the first time she faced the possibility of being called to account for her crimes.
A great cheer went up from the Spaniards, as the pirate's deck flew to pieces, his gunports buckled, and one of his lanteen sails came crashing down.
But El Diablo was still not beaten.
Above the roar of gunfire he was heard bellowing orders.
"He's not striking!" shouted one of the Spanish officers, angrily.
"All right, Don Guillermo. Starboard again," called the galleon's captain. Leaning slightly before the breeze, the magnificent ship ate up the distance between her and the running corsair, closing finally in a thunderous broadside.
A tornado of flying grape and round shot crashed through the planking of the pirate vessel.
Gunners along the rail were mangled into chunks of bloody flesh by the leaden hail.
The helmsman went down in a soggy pool of blood.
Less than half the crew remained alive to defend the ship.
El Diablo cursed and jumped to man the helm himself. But the Spaniard was already swinging about for another punishing broadside, as her gunners ran across the deck to the waiting bank of loaded cannon on the far rail.
There was another ear-splitting roar and the pirate quivered as the broadside smashed into his waterline.
The deck heaved and El Diablo knew that his ship was going down.
Blaspheming horribly, his arm about the waist of his hellcat mistress, he stood on the canted quarterdeck, waving his huge cutlass and hurling defiance at the hated Spaniards, as he waited for death.
Neither he nor Carmen were that lucky.
The ship went down in a bubbling whirlpool of shattered timber and crimson froth. Most of her crew went down with her. But among the few pulled alive from the water and clapped in chains were El Diablo and his mistress.
In Cadiz, the pirate and his paramour were tied to the tails of nervous horses and dragged through the filthy streets to the fortress overlooking the harbor.
There, the prison jailer had both their tongues cut out, so that they couldn't talk to each other, and they were flung into a dark, stinking dungeon, alive with voracious rats.
Half-mad, the two of them awaited death under the watchful eyes of these monstrous vermin. Starving, the rats attacked them when they tried to sleep, chewing off pieces of their living flesh.
In her terror Carmen used to bang her head against the slime-encrusted walls of the dungeon, mewling grotesquely.
The Spanish guards enjoyed the spectacle, howling with laughter at her antics.
After an eternity of suffering, the day of their execution arrived.
Both of them were dragged out of the dungeon into the blinding sunlight.
Little remained of Carmen's former lush beauty. Onlookers described her as looking more like a hag.
Then, to the delight of the city's populace, the torture began. Systematically, both were broken on the wheel.
El Diablo kept silent, but his mistress screamed hysterically, providing the townspeople with greater enjoyment.
Then came the time for the two to be flayed alive.
What followed was a nightmare of horror that rivaled even the prisoners' own bestial acts.
Each time the executioners made an incision with their skinning knives, Carmen shrieked in mortal agony.
Through the entire ordeal both prisoners remained alive. An hour after her flayed carcass had been nailed to the castle gate, Carmen was heard to scream again in agony as a raven pecked out her eyes.
But El Diablo was made of sterner stuff. When the carrion eater tried to get at his eyes, too, he caught its head between his decaying snags.
Slowly, as the great bird's wings beat against his raw and bloody face, the spectators gasped in horror.
El Diablo had bitten off the raven's head.