Now he was speaking, and he sounded more serious than before, like a holy man in contemplation.
“Concentrate and focus all your senses. Look past shadow and sound, deep into matter, until you see and hear a kind of shimmering.”
What was he going on about? His hand gripped my leg harder. He urged me to concentrate, to focus. His grip, in fact, his whole manner, brooked no disbelief, banishing my reluctance, my resistance . . .
Then I saw it. No, I didn’t see it. How can I explain this? I felt it—felt it with my eyes.
“Shimmering,” I said quietly. It was in the air around me—all around me—a more vivid version of something I had experienced before, sitting in the farmyard at home in Hatherton, late at night when, in a dream, my mind roaming free, it was as if the world had suddenly become that bit brighter and more clear. I had been able to hear things with extra clarity, see things ahead I hadn’t been able to see before, and here was the funny thing: as though there was contained within me a huge bank, a huge vault of knowledge awaiting my access, and all I needed to open it was the key.
That was it, sitting there, with Kidd’s hand gripping my leg.
It was as though I had found the key.
I knew why I’d felt different all those years ago.
“You understand?” hissed Kidd.
“I think so. I’ve seen its like before. Glowing, like moonlight on the ocean. It’s like using every sense at once to see sounds and hear shapes. Quite a combination.”
“Every man and woman on Earth has in them a kind of intuition hidden away,” Kidd was saying as I gazed about myself, like a man suddenly transported to another world. A blind man who could suddenly see.
“I’ve had this sense most of my life,” I told him, “only I thought it related in some way to my dreaming, or the like.”
“Most never find it,” said Kidd. “Others it takes years to tease out. But for a rare few it comes as natural as breathing. What you feel is the light of life. Of living things past and present. The residue of vitality come and gone. Practice. Intuition. Any man’s senses can be tuned well past what he is born with. If he tries.”
After that, we’d parted, with arrangements to meet in Tulum, which is why I found myself standing in the baking heat trying to talk to a native woman who stood by what looked like a pigeon coop and squinted up at me when I arrived.
“You keep these things as pets?” I asked.
“Messengers,” she replied in faltering English. “This is how we communicate between these islands. How we share information . . . And contracts.”
“Contracts?” I asked, thinking, Assassins. Assassins’ contracts?
She told me Kidd was waiting for me at a temple and I moved on. How did she know? And why, as I walked, did I get the feeling that they were awaiting my arrival? Why, as I passed through a village made up mainly of low huts, did I feel as though the villagers were all talking about me, gaping blankly at me when I looked their way? Some wore colourful flowing robes and jewellery, and carried spears and sticks. Some had bare chests and wore breech-clouts, were daubed with markings and wore strange adornments, bracelets made of silver and gold and beaded necklaces with bones for pendants.
I wondered if they were like the people from my world, bound by notions of rank and social class. Just as back in England a high-class gentleman might be recognized by the cut of his clothes and quality of his walking cane, here those at the top of the scale simply wore finer robes, more ornate jewellery and had more intricate daubing.
Perhaps Nassau really was the only place that was truly free. Or perhaps I was fooling myself about that.
It was as if the jungle fell away, and rising high, high above me in a pyramid shape was a vast tiered Mayan temple, huge flights of steps rising through the centre of the layers of stone.
Standing gulping in the undergrowth, I noticed the freshly cut branches and stems around me. A path had been recently cleared and I followed it until I reached a doorway in the foot of the temple.
In there? Yes. In there.
I felt along the sides of the stone door and with effort dragged it across until I was able to squeeze inside, into what looked like an entrance chamber, but not as dark as I’d expected. As though somebody had already lit . . .
“Captain Kenway,” said a voice from the shadows. It was a voice I didn’t recognize, and in the next instant my pistol was drawn as I span and peered into the dark. My new enemies had the advantage of surprise, though, and the pistol was knocked from my hand at the same moment as I was grabbed and pinned from behind. The flickering torchlight lit hooded, shadowy figures holding me in place, while in front of me two men had appeared from within the shadows. One of them was James Kidd. The other a native, hooded like the others, his face indistinct in the shadows. For a second he simply stood and stared at me until I stopped struggling and cursing James Kidd, and had calmed down, then he said, “Where is the Assassin Duncan Walpole?”
I threw a glance at Kidd. With his eyes he assured me everything was all right, that I was in no danger. Why I trusted him, I didn’t know. He’d tricked me into this meeting, after all. But I relaxed, nevertheless.
“Dead and buried,” I said of Walpole, and I didn’t see the native man in front of me bridle with anger so much as sense it. Quickly I added, “After he tried to kill me.”
The native gave a short, thoughtful nod. “We are not sorry to see him gone. But it is you who carried out his final betrayal. Why?”
“Money was my only aim,” I said impudently.
He moved in closer, giving me a good look at him. A native man, he had dark hair and piercing, serious eyes within a brown, lined face adorned with paint. He was also very angry.
“Money?” he said tightly. “Should I find comfort in that?”
“He has the sense, mentor,” said James, stepping in.
The sense. That much I understood. But now this: mentor. How was this native chief mentor to James?
Mention of my sense seemed to calm the native chief—the man I would later come to know as Ah Tabai.
“James tells me you met the Templars in Havana,” he said. “Did you see the man they call The Sage?”
“Would you recognize his face if you saw it again?” asked Ah Tabai.
“I reckon so,” I said.
He thought, then seemed to reach a decision.
“I must be certain,” he said quickly, then he and his men dissolved into the shadows, leaving me alone with James, who gave me a sharp look and raised a don’t-say-a-word finger before I could remonstrate with him.