Crouching, I moved to the fire, then flicked a glowing ember onto the tail of the gunpowder fuse. I steeled myself at the sound it made—it seemed so loud in the night—and thanked God the soldiers were making so much noise. As the fuse fizzed away from me, I hoped I hadn’t inadvertently broken the line of the fuse; hoped I hadn’t accidentally trickled the gunpowder into anything wet; hoped none of the soldiers would arrive back just at the very instant that . . .
Then, one did. He carried a bowlful of something. Fruit, perhaps. But either the smell or the noise alerted him and he stopped at the edge of the clearing and looked down at his boots just as the sizzle-burn of the gunpowder trail ran past his feet.
He looked up and his mouth formed an O to shout for help as I snatched a dagger out of my belt, pulled my arm back and threw it. Thank God for those wasted afternoons defacing trees back home at Bristol. Thank God, as the knife hit him somewhere just above the collar-bone—not an especially accurate shot, but it did the job—so that instead of shouting the alarm he made a muted, strangulated sound and slumped forward to his knees with his hands scrabbling at his neck.
The men in the clearing heard the noise of his body falling, his bowl tumbling, the fruit rolling, and turned to see its source. All of a sudden they were alert but it didn’t matter because even as they pulled their muskets from their shoulders, and a shout went up, they had no idea what hit them.
I’d turned my back, put my hands over my ears and curled up into a ball as the explosion tore across the clearing. Something hit my back. Something soft and wet, that I didn’t particularly want to think about. From further away I heard shouts and knew there would be more men arriving at any moment, so I turned and ran into the clearing, past blown-up bodies of soldiers in various states of mutilation and dismemberment, most of them dead, one of them pleading for death, and through thick black smoke that filled the clearing, embers floating in the air.
DuCasse emerged from the tent, swearing in French, shouting for someone, anyone, to put out the fire. Coughing, spluttering, he waved his hand in front of his face to clear smoke and choking particles of flaming soot and peered into the fog.
And he saw me standing in front of him.
I know that he recognized me because “you” was the only word he said before I drove my blade into him.
My blade hadn’t made a sound.
“You remember the gift you gave me?” The blade made a slight sucking noise as I pulled it from his chest. “Well it answers just fine.”
“You son of a whore,” he coughed, and blood speckled his face. Around us rained the flaming soot like satanic snow.
“As bold as a musket ball, and still half as sharp,” he managed as the life drained from him.
“I’m sorry about this, mate. But I can’t risk your telling your Templar friends about me still kicking around.”
“I pity you, buccaneer. After all you have seen, after all we showed you of our Order, still you embrace the life of an ignorant and aimless rogue.”
Around his neck I saw something I hadn’t seen before. A key on a chain. I yanked it and it came away easily in my fingers.
“Is petty larceny the extent of your ambition,” he mocked. “Have you no mind to comprehend the scope of ours? All the empires on earth, abolished! A free and opened world, without parasites like you.”
He closed his eyes, dying. His last words were, “May the hell you find be of your own making.”
Behind me I heard men come into the clearing and knew it was time to leave. In the distance I could hear more shouts and the sounds of battle and knew that my ship-mates had arrived and that the cove and galleon would soon be ours and the night’s work over. As I disappeared into the undergrowth I thought about DuCasse’s final words: May the hell you find be of your own making.
We would see about that, I thought. We would see.
It was two months later, and I was in Tulum off the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. My reason for being there? The ever-mysterious James Kidd and what he had showed me on Inagua Island.
He had been waiting, I now realize. Waiting for his moment to get me alone. After the death of DuCasse, the theft of his galleon and the . . . well, let’s just say “removal” of the rest of the Frenchman’s men, an operation that boiled down to either “join us and become a pirate,” or “enjoy your swim,” Thatch had sailed for Nassau with the Spanish galleon, taking most of the men with him.
Myself, Adewalé and Kidd had remained behind with some vague idea of how we might utilize the cove. What I had in mind, of course, was using the cove by relaxing on its beaches and drinking until the supplies of rum ran dry, then returning to Nassau. Oh, you constructed the fortified harbour without me. What a shame I missed the opportunity to help. Something like that.
What Kidd had in mind—well, who could tell? At least until he approached me that day, told me he had something to show me and led me to the Mayan stones.
“Odd-looking things, aren’t they?” he said.
From a distance they’d looked like a collection of rubble, but up close were actually a carefully arranged formation of strangely carved blocks.
“Is this what they call Mayan?” I asked him, staring at the rock closely. “Or is it Aztec?”
He looked at me. He wore that same penetrating, quizzical look he always seemed to when we spoke. It made me feel uncomfortable if I’m honest. Why did I always get the feeling he had something to say, something to tell me? Those cards he held close to his chest, there were times I wanted to wrench his hands away and look at them for myself.
Some instinct, though, had told me that I’d find out in good time. That instinct would be proved right.
“Are you good with riddles, Edward?” he asked me. “Puzzles and ponderings and the like?”
“I’m no worse than the next man,” I said carefully. “Why?”
“I think you have a natural gift for it. I’ve sensed it for some time, in the way you work and think. The way you understand the world.”
Now we were getting to it. “I’m not so sure about that. You’re talking in riddles now, and I don’t understand a word.”
He nodded. Whatever he had to tell me, it wasn’t going to appear all at once. “Clamber on top of this thing here, will you? Help me solve something.”
Together we scrambled to the top of the rocks, where we crouched. When James put a hand to my leg I looked down at it, just as tanned, weathered and worn as that of any pirate, with the same latticework of tiny cuts and scars earned at sea. But smaller, the fingers slightly tapered, and I wondered what it was doing there. If . . . But no. Surely not.