Doesn’t come cheap, gentlemen, I thought, as I came to the perimeter of a clearing where my crew had been deposited, sitting back-to-back with their hands bound. Good lads, they were giving the English soldiers all kinds of grief: “Let me up, tosspot, and face me like a soldier!”

“If only you knew what was coming to you . . . I think you’d pack your kits and run.”

I fitted the first of my darts into the blowpipe. I could see what needed to be done: take out the English soldiers one by one, try and even up the numbers a little. A poor, unfortunate native gave me just the diversion I needed. Howling outrage, he staggered to his feet and tried to run. With him went the attention of the soldiers, grateful for the sport, gleefully fitting their muskets to their shoulders and firing. Crack. Crack. Like snapping branches in the forest. There was laughter as he crashed down in a haze of crimson, but they didn’t notice that one of their number folded silently into the undergrowth too, his hand clutching at the blowpipe dart protruding from his neck.

As the guards returned to the clearing I crossed the path behind them and at the same time spat a second dart at the soldier bringing up the rear. I span on my heel and caught him as he fell, and as I dragged his body into the bush, I thanked God for my rowdy men. They had no idea of my presence but couldn’t have been more helpful if I’d primed them.

A soldier swung around. “Hey,” he said, his friend nowhere to be seen. “Where’s Thompson?”

Hidden in the undergrowth my fingers fitted the next dart and I raised the pipe to my lips. Took a quick breath and puffed out my cheeks just as Kidd had shown me. The dart pierced him below the jawbone and he probably thought he’d been bitten by a mosquito—right up until the second he lost consciousness.

Now we were in business. From my vantage point in the bushes I counted. Three men dead, six still alive, and if I could take out a couple more before the remaining guards worked out they were being picked off, well, then I thought I could take the rest myself. Me and my hidden blade.

Did this make me an Assassin? Since I was behaving and thinking like one? After all, hadn’t I pledged to fight the Templars for Hatherton?

My enemy’s enemy is my friend.

No. I’m my own man. I answer to no one but myself. No creed for me. I’d had years of wanting to be free of convention and I wasn’t about to give all that up.

By then the soldiers were looking around themselves. They’d begun to wonder where their comrades were. I realized I didn’t have the luxury of picking another one off. I had to take them all out myself.

Six against one. But I had the advantage of surprise, and as I leapt from within the undergrowth I made it my first order of business to swipe my blade across the ropes that bound Adewalé. Behind me he scrambled to find a weapon of his own. My blade was in my right hand, my pistol held in my left. Positioned between two men with my arms out straight, I pulled the trigger of the pistol and slashed with my right hand at the same time, bringing my arms to cross in front of me. One man died with a metal ball ploughing through his chest, the other with a gaping throat wound.

I dropped the empty pistol, pivoted, snatched a new pistol from my belt and uncrossed my arms at the same time. Two new targets, and this time the blade’s backswipe sliced open a man’s chest, while I shot a fourth man in the mouth. I met a sword blow with a parry from the blade, a soldier who came forward with bared teeth giving me no time to snatch my third pistol. For a moment we traded blows, and he was better than I had expected because all the while I wasted precious seconds besting him, his comrade was looking along the barrel of his musket at me, ready to pull the trigger. I dropped to one knee, jabbed upwards with the blade and sliced into the swordsman’s side.

Dirty trick. Nasty trick.

There was even something of the outraged English sense of honour in his agonized yell of anguish and pain as his legs gave way beneath him and he came thumping to the ground, his sword swinging uselessly and not enough to prevent my blade punching up underneath his jaw and through the roof of his mouth.

A dirty, nasty trick. And a stupid one. Now I was on the ground (never go down in a fight) with my blade wedged in my opponent. A sitting duck. My left hand scrabbled to find my third pistol but unless the other soldier’s musket misfired because the powder was wet, I was dead.

I looked over to him, saw him do the about-to-fire face.

And a blade appeared from his chest as Adewalé ran him through.

I breathed a sigh of relief as he helped me up, knowing I’d been close—this close—to death.

“Thank you, Ade.”

He smiled, waved my thanks away, and together our gaze went to the soldier. His body rose and fell with his last breaths, and one hand twitched before it went still, and we wondered what might have been.

THIRTY-SEVEN

Not long after, the men were free, and James and I stood on the beach on Tulum—a Tulum once again in the hands of natives, rather than soldiers or slavers—looking out to sea. With a curse he handed me his spyglass.

“Who’s out there?” I asked. A huge galley cruised along the horizon, getting more and more distance with each passing second. On it I could just about make out men on deck, one in particular who seemed to be ordering the others around.

“See that mangy old codger?” he said. “He’s a Dutch slaver called Laurens Prins. Living now like a king in Jamaica. Bastard’s been a target for years. Bloody hell, we nearly had him!”

Kidd was right. This slave trader had been on land in Tulum but now was well on his way to safety. He considered his mission a failure, no doubt. But at least he’d escaped with his liberty.

Another Assassin none too pleased was Ah Tabai, who joined us wearing a face so serious I couldn’t help but laugh.

“By God, you Assassins are a cheery bunch, eh? All frowns and furrowed brows.”

He glared at me. “Captain Kenway. You have remarkable skill.”

“Ah, thanks, mate. It comes natural.”

He pursed his lips. “But you are churlish and arrogant, prancing around in a uniform that you have not earned.”

“Everything is permitted.” I laughed “Isn’t that your motto?”

The native man might have been old but his body was sinewy and he moved like a man much younger. His face could have been carved from wood, and in his eyes was something truly dark, something both ancient and ageless. I found myself unnerved as he gave me the full benefit of his stare, and for a moment I thought he might say nothing, simply make me wilt in the heat of his contempt.

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