Kidd was different. Whatever cards he was holding, he kept them close to his chest. I remembered a conversation we’d had a while back. “Did you steal that costume from a dandy in Havana?” he’d asked me.
“No, sir,” I replied. “Found this on a corpse . . . one that was walking about and talking shite to my face only moments before.”
“Ah . . .” he’d said, and a look had crossed his face, impossible to decipher . . .
Still, there was no hiding his enthusiasm when we finally saw the galleon we were looking for.
“That ship’s a monster, look at the size of her,” said Kidd as Edward preened himself as though to say, I told you so.
“Aye,” he warned, “and we cannot last long face-to-face with her. You hear that, Kenway? Keep your distance, and we’ll strike when fortune favours us.”
“Under cover of darkness, most likely,” I said with my eye to the spyglass. Thatch was right. She was a beauty. A fine ornament for our harbour indeed, and an imposing line of defence in its own right.
We let the galleon draw away towards a disruption of horizon in the distance that I took to be an island. Inagua Island, if my memory of the charts was correct, where a cove provided the perfect place for our vessels to moor, and the abundant plant and animal life made it ideal for re-stocking supplies.
Thatch confirmed it. “I know the place. A natural stronghold used by a French captain named DuCasse.”
“Julien DuCasse?” I said, unable to keep the surprise out of my voice. “The Templar?”
“Name’s right,” replied Edward, distracted. “I didn’t know he had a title.”
Grimly I said, “I know the man and if he sees my ship, he’ll know it from his time in Havana. Meaning he may wonder who’s sailing her now. I can’t risk that.”
“I don’t want to lose that galleon,” said Edward. “Let’s think on it and maybe wait till it’s darker before hopping aboard.”
• • •
Later, I took the opportunity to address the men, climbing the rigging and gazing down upon them gathered on the main deck, Edward Thatch and James Kidd among them. I wondered, as I hung there for a moment, waiting for silence to fall, whether Thatch looked at and felt proud of his young protégé, a man he had mentored in the ways of piracy. I hoped so.
“Gentlemen! As is custom among our kind, we do not plunge headlong into folly on the orders of a single madman, but act according to our own collective madness!”
They roared with laughter.
“The object of our attention is a square-rigged galleon, and we want her for the advantage she’ll bring Nassau. So I’ll put it to the vote . . . All those in favour of storming this cove and taking the ship, stomp and shout Aye!”
The men roared their approval, not a single voice of dissent among them and it gladdened the heart to hear it.
“And those who oppose, whimper Nay!”
There was not a nay to be heard.
“Never was the King’s Council this unified!” I roared and men cheered. I looked down at James Kidd, and especially at Edward Thatch, and they beamed their approval.
Shortly after, as we sailed into the cove, I had a thought: I needed to be sure that Julien DuCasse was taken care of. If he saw the Jackdaw, and more to the point, if he saw me and escaped, he could tell his Templar confederates where I was, and I didn’t want that. Not if I still held out hope of locating The Observatory, which, despite what my pals were saying, I still did. I gave the matter some thought, mulling over the various possibilities, and in the end decided to do what had to be done: I jumped overboard.
Well, not straight away, I didn’t. First I told Thatch and James of my plans and then, when my friends had been told that I planned to go on ahead and surprise DuCasse before the main attack started, I jumped overboard.
I swam to shore, where I moved like a wraith in the night, thinking of Duncan Walpole as I did it, mind going back to the evening I’d broken into Torres’s mansion and dearly hoping that tonight didn’t turn out the same way.
I passed clusters of DuCasse’s guards, my limited Spanish picking up snippets of conversation as they moaned about having to hunt down supplies for the boat. Night was falling by the time I came to an encampment and crouched in the undergrowth, where I listened to conversation from within the canvas of a lean-to. One voice in particular I recognized: Julien DuCasse.
I already knew that DuCasse kept a manor house on the island, where he no doubt liked to relax after returning from his expeditions out to control the world. The fact that he wasn’t returning there at that time meant that this was but a fleeting visit to collect supplies.
Now, just one problem. Inside the lean-to my former Templar associate was surrounded by guards. They were truculent guards, who were hacked off at having to collect stocks for the ship, not to mention feeling the sharp edge of Julien DuCasse’s tongue. But they were guards all the same. I looked around at the encampment. On the opposite side was a fire, which had burned down almost to the embers. Close to me were crates and barrels, and looking from them to the fire I could see that they had been placed there deliberately. Sure enough, when I crabbed over and had a better look, what I saw were kegs of gunpowder. I reached behind my neck, where I’d stowed my pistol to keep it dry. My powder was wet, of course, but then access to powder was no longer a problem.
In the middle of the encampment stood three soldiers. On guard, supposedly, but in actual fact mumbling something I couldn’t hear. Cursing DuCasse, probably. Other troops were coming and going and adding to the pile of supplies: firewood, mainly, kindling, as well as water casks that slopped with water drawn from a spring nearby. Not exactly the feast of wild boar DuCasse was hoping for, I’d wager.
Staying in the shadows, and with one eye on the movement of the troops, I crept close to the kegs and gouged a hole in the bottom one, big enough to fill my hands and create a little trail of gunpowder that I began to leave as I crept around the edge of the compound until I was as close to the fire as I dared. My line of gunpowder led in a half circle from where I crouched back to the kegs of gunpowder. At the other side of that circle was the lean-to where Julien DuCasse sat, drinking and dreaming of grand Templar plans to take over the world—and shouting abuse at his recalcitrant men.
Right. I had fire. I had a trail of gunpowder leading from the fire through the undergrowth and to the kegs. I had men waiting to be blown up and I had Julien DuCasse awaiting our moment of reckoning. Now all I needed to do was time things so that none of the boorish troops would see my makeshift fuse before it could detonate the powder.