“I have not come to disappoint,” I said uncertainly. Tell the truth I didn’t have the foggiest what he was on about. What I wanted was to give the pouch with one hand and receive a bulging pouch of gold with the other.
Failing that, I wanted to move on, because just then I felt as though my deception was apt to crumble at any second. In the end it was a relief when Woodes Rogers’s face broke into a grin—the same grin he no doubt had at the thought of pirates’ heads in hangmen’s nooses—clapped me on the back and insisted I take part in shooting.
Happy to oblige. Anything to take their minds off me, I engaged them in conversation at the same time. “How is your wife these days, Captain Rogers? Is she here in Havana?”
I held my breath, steeling myself against his next words, “Yes! Here she is right now! Darling, you remember Duncan Walpole, don’t you?”
Instead, he said, “Oh, no. No, we’ve been separated these two years past.”
“Sorry to hear that,” I said, thinking what excellent news it was.
“I trust she is well,” he went on, a touch of wistfulness in his voice that sparked a brief thought of my own lost love, “but . . . I wouldn’t know. I have been in Madagascar some fourteen months, hunting pirates.”
So I had heard. “You mean Libertalia, the pirate town?”
That was Libertalia in Madagascar. According to legend, Captain William Kidd had stopped there in 1697 and ended up leaving with only half his crew, the rest of them seduced by the lifestyle of a pirate utopia where the motto was “for God and liberty,” with the emphasis on liberty. Where they spared the lives of prisoners, kept killing to a minimum, shared all the spoils fairly, no matter your rank or standing.
It sounded too good to be true, and there were plenty who thought it was a mythical place, but I’d been assured it existed.
Rogers was laughing. “What I saw in Madagascar was little more than the aftermath of a sad orgy. A ruffians’ squat. Even the feral dogs seemed ashamed of its condition. As for the twenty or thirty men living there, I cannot say they were ragged, since most wore no clothes at all.”
I thought of Nassau, where such low standards wouldn’t be tolerated—not before nightfall at least.
“And how did you deal with their kind?” I asked, the picture of innocence.
“Very simply. Most pirates are as ignorant as apes. I merely offered them a choice . . . Take a pardon and return to England penniless but free men, or be hanged by the neck until dead. It took some work to dislodge the criminals there, but we managed it. In future, I hope to use the same tactics throughout the West Indies.”
“Ah,” I said. “I imagine Nassau would be your next target.”
“Very astute, Duncan. Indeed. Point of fact . . . The moment I return to England, I intend to petition King George with the hope of becoming his emissary in the Bahamas. As governor, no less.”
So that was it. Nassau was the next step. A place I had come to think of as my spiritual home was under threat—from the carriage-gun, the musket ball or maybe just the scratch of a quill. But under threat all the same.
I managed to distinguish myself in the shooting and was feeling pretty pleased with myself all told. Once again my thoughts returned to the reward. As soon as I had my money I could return to Nassau, and once there warn Edward and Benjamin that the infamous Woodes Rogers had a Bahamas-shaped bee in his bonnet for our little pirate republic. That he was coming for us.
Then a box was opened, and I heard Rogers say, “Wonderful. You’re a crack shot, Duncan. As good with a pistol as with your wrist blade, I imagine.”
Wrist blade, I thought, distantly. Wrist blade?
“If only he had one,” DuCasse was saying as I peered at several sets of hidden blades displayed in the box—blades the same as those I had reluctantly discarded on the beach at Cape Buena Vista. “Duncan, where are your wrist blades? I have never seen an Assassin so ill-equipped.”
Again: assassin. As in, Assassin.
“Ah, damaged, sadly, beyond repair,” I replied.
DuCasse indicated the selection in the box. “Then have your choice,” he purred. Was it his thick French accent or did he mean to make it sound more like a threat than an offer?
I wondered where the blades were from. Other assassins, of course. (But assassins or Assassins?) Walpole had been one, but had been meaning to convert. A traitor? But what was this “order” which he’d been planning to join?
“These are souvenirs,” Julien was saying.
Dead men’s blades. I reached into the box and drew one out. The blade shone and its fixings trailed against my arm. At which point it dawned on me. They wanted me to use it, to see me in action. Whether as a test or for sport, it didn’t matter. Either way they wanted a display of proficiency in a weapon I’d never used before.
Straight away I went from congratulating myself on having thrown the bloody thing away (it would have given me away!) to cursing myself for not having kept it (I could have practised and been competent with it by then).
I squared my shoulders in Duncan Walpole’s robes. An imposter. All of a sudden, I had to be him. I had to really be him.
They watched as I strapped on the blade. A weak joke about being out of practice elicited polite but humourless chuckles. With it on I let my sleeve drop down over my hand and as we walked began to flex my fingers, adjusting my wrist and feeling for the tell-tale catch of the blade engaging.
Walpole’s blade had been wet that day we fought. Who knows—perhaps it really had been damaged. This one, greased and shined, would surely be more cooperative?
I prayed it would be. Imagined the looks on their faces if I simply failed to make it work.
“Are you sure you are who you say you are?”
Instinctively I found myself seeking out the nearest escape route and not only that, but wishing I’d just left the bloody pouch of documents where I’d found it; wishing I’d left Walpole well alone. What was wrong with life as Edward Kenway anyway? I was poor but at least I was alive. I could have been back in Nassau at that moment, planning raids with Edward and eyeing up Anne Bonny at The Old Avery.
Edward had warned me not to join Captain Bramah. From the moment I’d suggested it, he told me Bramah was bad news. Why hadn’t I bloody listened?
The voice of Julien DuCasse interrupted my thoughts.
“Duncan,” he pronounced it Dern-kern, “would you indulge us with a demonstration of your techniques?”