“Have you ever heard of a place called The Observatory?” I asked them.
I’d been thinking about it a lot. At its mention there was a flicker in James Kidd’s eyes. I shot him a glance. He was young—about nineteen or twenty years old, I’d say, so a bit younger than I was, and, just like me, a bit of a hothead. So as Thatch and Hornigold shook their heads, it was he who spoke up.
“Aye,” he said. “I’ve heard of The Observatory. An old legend, like Eldorado or The Fountain of Youth.”
I ushered them to the table where, with a look left and right to see if any of the king’s spies were in residence, I smoothed out the picture purloined from Torres’s mansion and placed it on the table. A bit dog-eared but still—there in front of us was an image of The Observatory and all three men looked at it, some with more interest than others and some who pretended they were less interested than they really were.
“What have you heard?” I asked James.
“It is meant to be a temple or a tomb. Hiding a treasure of some kind.”
“Ah, rocks,” bellowed Edward. “It’s fairy stories you prefer to gold, is it?”
Thatch—he’d have no part in trying to find The Observatory. I knew that from the start. Hell, I’d known that before I even opened my mouth. He wanted treasure he could weigh, on scales; chests filled with pieces of eight, rusted with the blood of their previous owners.
“It’s worth more than gold, Thatch. Ten thousand times above what we could pull off any Spanish ship.”
Ben was looking doubtful too—as a matter of fact, the only ear I seemed to have belonged to James Kidd.
“Robbing the king to pay his paupers is how we earn our keep here, lad,” said Ben with an admonishing tone. He jabbed a grimy, weather-beaten finger at my stolen picture. “That ain’t a fortune, it’s a fantasy.”
“But this is a prize that could set us up for life.”
My two old ship-mates, they were salt of the earth, the two very best men I’d ever sailed with, but I cursed their lack of vision. They spoke of two or three scores to set us up for months, but I had in mind a prize that would set us up for life! Not to mention making me a gentleman, a man of property and promise.
“Are you still dreaming on that strumpet back in Bristol?” jeered Ben when I mentioned Caroline. “Jaysus, let go, lad. Nassau is the place to be, not England.”
For a while I tried to convince myself that it was true, and they were right, and that I should set my sights on more tangible treasures. During days spent drinking, planning raids, then carrying out those raids, drinking to their success and planning more raids, I had plenty of time to reflect on the irony of it all, how standing around the table with my Templar “friends” I’d thought them deluded and silly and yearned for my pirate mates with their straight talking and free-thinking. Yet there on Nassau, I found men who had closed their minds, despite appearances to the contrary, despite what they said, and even the symbolism of the black flag, with which I was presented one afternoon when the sun beat down upon us.
“We fly no colours out here but praise the lack of them,” said Edward Thatch as we looked out towards the Jackdaw, where Adewalé stood by the flagpole. “So let the Black Flag signal nothing but your allegiance to man’s natural freedoms. This one is yours. Fly it proud.”
The flag flapped gently in the wind and I was proud—I was proud. I was proud of what it represented and of my part in it. I had helped build something worthwhile, struck a blow for freedom—true freedom. And yet, there was still a hole deep in my heart, where I thought of Caroline and of the wrong that had been done to me. You see, my sweet, I had returned to Nassau a different man. Those passions buried deep? I was waiting for the day to act upon them.
• • •
In the meantime there were other things to think about, specifically the threat to our way of life. One night found us sitting around a campfire on the beach, our ships moored off shore, the Benjamin and the Jackdaw.
“Here’s to a pirate republic, lads,” said Thatch. “We are prosperous and free, and out of the reach of king’s clergy and debt collectors.”
“Near seven hundred men now pledge their allegiance to the brethren of the coast in Nassau. Not a bad number,” said James Kidd. He cast me a brief sideways glance I pretended not to notice.
“True,” burped Thatch, “yet we lack sturdy defences. If the king were to attack the town, he’d trample us.”
I grasped the bottle of rum he handed to me, held it up to the moonlight to examine it for bits of floating sediment, then, satisfied, took a swig.
“Then let us find The Observatory,” I offered. “If it does what these Templars claim, we’ll be unbeatable.”
Thatch sighed and reached for the bottle. They’d heard this from me a lot. “Not that twaddle again, Kenway. That’s a story for schoolboys. I mean proper defences. Steal a galleon, shift all the guns to one side. It would make a nice ornament for one of our harbours.”
Now Adewalé spoke up. “It will not be easy to steal a full Spanish galleon.” His voice was slow, clear, thoughtful. “Have you one in mind?”
“I do, sir,” retorted Thatch drunkenly. “I’ll show you. She’s a fussock, she is. Fat and slow.”
Which was how we came to be launching an attack on the Spanish galleon. Not that I knew it then, of course, but I was about to run into my old friends the Templars again.
We set course south-east or thereabouts. Edward said he’d seen this particular galleon lurking around the lower reaches of the Bahamas. We took the Jackdaw, and as we sailed we found ourselves talking to James Kidd and quizzing him on his parentage.
“The bastard son of the late William Kidd, eh?” Ed Thatch was most amused to relate. “Is that a true yarn you like spinning?”
The three of us stood on the poop-deck and shared a spyglass like it was a black-jack of rum, trading it in order to peer through a wall of early-evening fog so thick it was like trying to stare through milk.
“So my mother told me,” replied Kidd primly. I’m the result of a night of passion just before William left London . . .”
It was difficult to tell from his voice if he was vexed by the question. He was different like that. Edward Thatch, for example, wore his heart on his sleeve. He’d be angry one second, hearty the next. Didn’t matter whether he was throwing punches or doling out drunken, rib-crushing bear-hugs, you knew what you were getting with Edward.