DuCasse gave a small, scoffing laugh. “It has been forty-five years since anyone has seen an actual Sage. Can you be sure this one is authentic?”

“We are confident he is,” replied Torres.

“The Assassins will come for him,” said Rogers.

I looked at the documents spread out before us. Drawings of what looked like an ancient race of people building something—The Observatory, presumably. Slaves breaking rocks and carrying huge stone blocks. They looked human, but not quite human.

One thing I did know—a plan was beginning to form. This Observatory, which meant so much to the Templars. What would it be worth? More to the point, what would it be worth to a man planning revenge on the people who had helped torch his childhood home?

The small crystal cube from the pouch was still on the table. I puzzled over it, just as I had on the beach at Cape Buena Vista. Now I watched as Torres reached and picked it up, replying to Rogers at the same time.

“Indeed the Assassins will come for us but, thanks to Duncan and the information he has delivered, the Assassins won’t be a problem for much longer. All will be made clear tomorrow, gentlemen, when you meet The Sage for yourselves. Until then, let us drink.”

Our host indicated a drinks table, and while backs were turned I reached to the documents and pocketed a manuscript page—a picture of The Observatory.

I was just in time before Torres turned, handing glasses to the men.

“Let us find The Observatory together, for with its power, kings will fall, clergy will cower, and the hearts and minds of the world will be ours.”

We drank.

We drank together though I know for sure we drank in honour of very different things indeed.

THIRTY

The next day I had been asked to meet my “fellow Templars” at the city’s Northern Ports, where it was said the treasure fleet would be arriving with my reward, and we could discuss further schemes.

I nodded, keen to give the impression that I was an eager Templar, plotting with my new firm friends to do whatever it was Templars were plotting to do—the small matter of being able to influence “every man and woman on Earth.” In fact, what I intended to do, just between me and you, was pocket the money, make my excuses, whatever those excuses needed to be, and leave. I was looking forward to spending my money and sharing my new-found information with my confederates at Nassau, then finding The Observatory, reaping the pay-day, helping the downfall of these Templars.

But first I had to collect my money.

“Good morning, Duncan,” I heard Woodes Rogers hailing me from the docks. It was a fresh morning in Havana, the sun yet to reach full temperature and a light breeze blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico.

I began following Rogers, then I heard a voice shout, “Edward! Hello, Edward!”

For a second or so I thought it was a case of mistaken identity, even found myself looking over my shoulder to see this “Edward.” Until I remembered. Edward was me. I was Edward. Stupid Edward. Who, from a misplaced sense of guilt, had admitted my secret to Havana’s biggest babbler, Stede Bonnet.

“I found a man to purchase my remaining sugar. Quite a coup I must say,” he called across the harbour.

I waved back—excellent news—aware of Rogers’s eyes upon me.

“He just called you Edward,” said my companion. That same curious smile I’d seen yesterday played about his lips again.

“Oh, that’s the merchant who sailed me here,” I explained, with a conspiratorial wink. “Out of caution, I gave him a false name.”

“Ah . . . well done,” said Rogers.

But not convinced.

I was thankful to leave the main harbour behind when Rogers and I joined the same group of Templars who’d met at Torres’s mansion the day before. Hands were shaken, the rings of our brotherhood, still fresh on our fingers, glinted, and we gave each other short nods. Brothers. Brothers in a secret society.

Torres led us to a line of small fishermen’s huts, with row-boats tethered in the water nearby. There was no one about, not yet. We had this small area of the harbour to ourselves, which was the intention, no doubt, as Torres guided us to the end, where guards waited before one of the small huts. Inside, sitting on an upturned crate with a beard and ragged clothes and in his eyes a dejected but defiant look, was The Sage.

I watched the faces of my companions change. Just as the conflict between defeat and belligerence seemed to play out on the face of The Sage, so the Templars appeared to struggle too, and they returned his glare with a look that was a mix of pity and awe.

“Here he is,” said Torres, speaking quietly, almost reverently, whether he knew it or not, “a man both Templars and Assassins have sought for over a decade.”

He addressed The Sage.

“I am told your surname is Roberts. Is this so?”

Roberts, or The Sage, or whatever we were calling him that day, said nothing. Merely stared balefully at Torres.

Without taking his eyes off The Sage, Torres reached a hand up to shoulder level. Onto his palm El Tiburón placed the crystal cube from the pouch. I’d wondered what it was. I was about to find out.

Torres, speaking to The Sage again, said, “You recognize this, I think?”

Silence from The Sage. Perhaps he knew what was coming next for Torres indicated again, and a second upturned crate was brought and he sat on it so that he faced The Sage, man to man, except that one of the men was governor of Havana and the other man was ragged and had wild, hermit eyes and his hands were bound.

It was to those bound hands that Torres reached, bringing the crystal cube to bear, then inserting it over The Sage’s thumb.

The two men stared at each other for a moment or so. Torres’s fingers seemed to be manipulating The Sage’s thumb somehow, before a single droplet of blood filled the vial.

I watched, not quite sure what I was witnessing. The Sage seemed to feel no pain and yet his eyes went from one man to the next as though cursing each of us in turn, me included, fixed with a stare of such ferocity that I found myself having to resist the impulse to shrink away.

Why on earth did they need this poor man’s blood? What did it have to do with The Observatory?

“According to the old tales, the blood of a Sage is required to enter The Observatory,” said DuCasse in a whisper, as though reading my thoughts.

When the operation was over, Torres stood from his crate, a little shaky, with one hand holding the vial for all to see. Caught by the light, the blood-filled crystal gave his hand a red glow.

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