“This captain claims the Princess sails out of Kingston every few months,” I told Vane.
“All right. We’ll set a course,” said Vane, and the decision was made: we were heading for Kingston, and no doubt the slave captain would have been okay and left unharmed, had he not called out angrily, “You made a hash of my cells and rigging, you jackanapes. You owe me a share.”
Every man there who knew Charles Vane could have told you what would happen next: terrible violence with no remorse. So it was at that moment, when he swung around, drew his gun and strode over to the captain in one quick and furious movement. Then he put the muzzle of the gun to the captain’s knee, his other hand held to stop himself being splashed with blood. And pulled the trigger.
It happened quickly, matter-of-factly. In the aftermath Charles Vane walked away, about to move past me when I shouted, “Damn it, Vane!”
“Oh, Charles, what a surly devil you are,” said Calico Jack, and it was a rare moment of sobriety from Calico Jack, a fact that was almost as shocking as the captain’s piercing screams, but then the old drunkard was seemingly in the mood to challenge Charles Vane.
Vane turned on his quartermaster. “Don’t fuck with me, Jack.”
“It is my mandate to fuck with you, Charles,” snapped Calico Jack, normally laid out drunk, but today in a mood to challenge Vane’s authority, it seemed. “Lads,” he commanded, and as if on cue—as though they had been awaiting their chance—several men loyal to Calico Jack stepped forward with drawn weapons. We were outnumbered, but that didn’t stop Adewalé, who was about to draw his cutlass, only to feel the full weight of a guard across his face, which sent him crumpling to the deck.
I found myself with a face full of pistol barrels when I moved forward to help.
“See . . . The boys and I had a bit of a council while you were wasting time with this lot,” said Calico Jack, indicating the captured slaver. “They figured I’d be a fitter captain than you reckless dogs.”
He gestured towards Adewalé, and my blood rose as he said, “This one I figure I may sell for a tenner in Kingston. But with you two, I can’t take any chances.”
Surrounded, me, Charles and our men were helpless to do anything. My mind reeled, wondering where it had all gone so wrong. Had we needed Blackbeard that much? Did we rely on him so heavily that things could go so terribly awry in his absence? It seems so. It seems so.
“You’ll regret this day, Rackham,” I hissed.
“I regret most of them already.” The mutineer Calico Jack sighed. His colourful Indian shirt was the last thing I saw as another man came forward clutching a black bag that he pulled over my head.
That was how we found ourselves marooned on Providencia. After a month adrift on the damaged Ranger, that was.
Jack had left us food and weapons but we had no means of steering or sailing the ship, so it was a month at sea in which we tried and failed to repair the broken rigging and masts and spent most of the day manning the pumps in order to stay afloat; a month in which I’d had to listen to Vane ranting and raving all hours of the day and night. Shaking his fist at thin air, he was. “I’ll get ya, Jack Rackham! I’ll open y’up. I’ll tear out your organs and string a bloody lute with them.”
We spent Christmas 1718 on the Ranger, bobbing around like a discarded liquor bottle on the waves, praying for mercy from the weather. Just me and him. Of course, we had no calendars or such, so it was impossible to say when Christmas fell or on which day 1718 became 1719, but I’m prepared to wager I spent them listening to Charles Vane rage at the sea, at the sky, at me, and especially at his old mucker, Calico Jack Rackham.
“I’ll get ya! You see if I don’t, y’scurvy bastid!”
When I tried to remonstrate with him, hinting that perhaps his constant shouting was doing more harm to our morale than good, he turned on me.
“Well, well, the fearsome Edward Kenway speaks!” he’d bawl. “Pray tell us, Cap’n, how to quit this predicament and tell us what genius you have for sailing a boat with no sails and no rudder.”
How we didn’t kill each other during that time, I’ll never know, but, by God, we were glad to see land. We hooted with pleasure, clasped each other, jumped up and down. We launched a yawl from the stricken Ranger, and as night fell we rowed ashore, then collapsed on the beach, exhausted but ecstatic that after a month drifting at sea we’d finally found land.
The next morning we awoke to find the Ranger wrecked against the beach and cursed one another for failing to drop anchor.
And then cursed our luck as we realized just how small it was, the island on which we were now marooned.
Providencia, it was called, a small island with its fair share of history. A bloody history, at that. English colonists, pirates and the Spanish had done nothing but fight over it for the best part of a century. Squabbling over it. Forty years ago, the great pirate Captain Henry Morgan had set his cap at it, recaptured it from the Spanish and used it as his base for a while.
By the time Vane and I set down upon the island, it was home to a few colonists, escaped slaves and convicts and the remnants of the Mosquito Indians, who were native to it. You could explore the abandoned fort, but there was nothing much left. Nothing you could eat or drink anyway. You could swim across to Santa Catalina, but then, that was even smaller, so mainly we spent the days fishing and finding frond oysters in small pools, and occasionally having a kind of snarling confrontation with groups of passing natives, ragged, wandering colonists or turtle fishermen. The colonists, in particular, always wore a wild, frightened look, as though they weren’t sure whether to attack or run away, and could just as well do either. Their eyes seemed to swivel in their sockets in different directions at once and they made odd, twitchy movements with dry, sun-parched lips.
I turned to Charles Vane after one particular encounter, about to comment, and saw that he too was wearing a wild look, and his eyes seemed to swivel in their sockets, and he made odd, twitchy movements with his dry, sun-parched lips.
Until whatever fragile cord holding Charles Vane together snapped one day, and off he went to start a new Providencia tribe. A tribe of one. I should have tried to talk him out of it. “Charles, we must stick together.” But I was sick to the back teeth of Charles Vane, and anyway, it wasn’t like I’d seen the last of him. He took to stealing my oysters for a start, scuttling out of the jungle, hairy and unshaven, his clothes ragged and with the look of a madman in his eyes. He’d scoop up my just-caught frond oysters, curse me for a bastard then scuttle back into the undergrowth from which he would curse me some more. My days were spent on the beach, swimming, fishing or scanning the horizon for vessels, all the time knowing full well he was tracking me from within the undergrowth.