So get rid of these guys.
The advantage I had was my hidden blade. It was strapped to my right hand. My sword hung on that side too so I would reach for it with my left. An experienced swordsman would expect my attack to come from that side and would defend himself accordingly. Big brute number one, he was an experienced swordsman. I could see by the way he’d planted one foot slightly in front of the other and angled his body side-on because big brute number one was expecting my sword to be drawn with my left hand (and yet, when the time came he would quickly switch feet, feinting to take me from a different side—I knew that too). Neither knew I had a hidden blade, which would sprout from my right.
So we stared at one another. Mainly me and big brute number one. I made my move. Right hand outstretched as though in protection, but then—engage blade, strike—and brute number two was still reaching for his own sword when it pierced his neck. At the same time I’d snatched my sword from my belt with my left hand and was able to defend big brute number one’s first attack, our swords clashing with the force of first impact.
Big brute number two gurgled and died, the blood pumping through fingers he held to his own throat, and now we were on equal footing. I brandished blades and sword at big brute number one and saw that the look he’d worn, a look of confidence—you might even say arrogance—had been replaced by fear.
He should have run. I probably would have caught him, but he should have run anyway. Should have tried to warn his lords and masters that a man was following them. A dangerous man with the skills of an Assassin.
But he didn’t run. He stood to fight, and though he was a man of skill and fought with more intelligence and more bravery than I was used to, it was that pride he could not bear to sacrifice on the streets of Kingston with a crowd of people looking on that ultimately was his undoing. When the end came, which it did, but only after a hard-fought battle, I made sure that for him the end was swift, his pain kept to a minimum.
The bystanders shrank back as I made my escape, swallowed up by the docks, hoping to catch Rogers and Hornigold. I made it, arriving at a quayside and crouching beside two drunks at the harbour wall as they met another man. Laureano Torres. They greeted each other with nods. Supremely aware of their own importance. I ducked my head—groan, had too much rum—as his gaze swept past where I sat, then he delivered his news.
“The Princess was taken by pirates six weeks ago,” he said. “Insofar as we know, The Sage, Roberts, was still aboard.”
I cursed to myself. If only the men knew how close they’d been to a short holiday in Kingston. But this meant that we were going to have to hunt pirates.
Then they walked and I stood and joined the crowds, following, invisible. Using the Sense. Hearing everything they said. “What of The Sage’s present location? Do we know?” asked Torres.
“Africa, your Excellency,” said Rogers.
“Africa . . . By God, the winds do not favour that route.”
“I concur, Grand Master. I should have sailed there myself. One of my slave galleys would be more than capable of making a swift journey.”
“Slave galley?” said Torres, not happy. “Captain, I asked you to divest yourself of that sick institution.”
“I fail to see the difference between enslaving some men and all men,” said Rogers. “Our aim is to steer the entire course of civilization, is it not?”
“A body enslaved inspires the mind to revolt,” said Torres curtly, “but enslave a man’s mind and his body will trot along naturally.”
Rogers conceded. “A fair point, Grand Master.”
Now they had reached the perimeter of the docks, where they stopped at the entrance to a dilapidated warehouse, watching the activities inside the open door. Men seemed to be disposing of bodies, either clearing them from the warehouse or putting them to one side, perhaps for loading onto a cart or ship. Or, what was more likely, tipping them straight into the sea.
Torres asked the question I wanted answered myself. “What has happened here?”
Rogers smiled thinly. “These were men who resisted our generous requests for blood. Pirates and privateers mostly.”
Torres nodded. “I see.”
I tightened at the thought, looked at the bodies, crooked arms and crooked legs, unseeing eyes. Men no different than me.
“I have been using my King’s Pardon as an excuse to collect samples from as many men as possible,” said Rogers. “When they refuse, I hang them. All within the boundaries of my mandate, of course.”
“Good. For if we cannot keep watch on all the world’s scoundrels, then the seas should be rid of them entirely.”
Now they moved on, heading towards the gang-board of a ship moored nearby. I followed, darting behind a stack of crates to listen.
“Remind me,” said Torres. “Where in Africa are we looking?”
“Principé, sir. A small island,” said Hornigold.
Torres and Rogers strode up the gang-board but Hornigold hung back. Why? Why was he hanging back? And now I saw. With squinted eyes, the practised look of a seafarer, he scanned the horizon and studied the ships anchored like sentinels in the glittering ocean, and his eyes alighted on one ship in particular. And then with a lurch of shock, I realized where we were—within sight of the Jackdaw.
Hornigold tensed, his hand went to the hilt of his sword and he turned around slowly. He was looking for me, I knew, guessing that wherever the Jackdaw was, I wouldn’t be far away.
“Edward Kenway,” he called out, as his gaze passed around the docks. “Imagine my surprise at seeing your Jackdaw anchored here. Have you heard all you came to hear? Will you now go and rescue the poor Sage from our clutching hands?”
In retrospect it was a bit rash, what I did next. But I was unable to think of anything but the fact that Benjamin had been one of us. One of my mentors, a friend of Edward Thatch. Now he worked to try and destroy us. All of that bubbled to the surface in a rage as I emerged from behind the crates to face him.
“A pox on you, traitor. You’ve betrayed us!”
“Because I found a better path,” said Hornigold. Instead of drawing his weapon he signalled with his hand. From the warehouse behind I heard the sound of swords being drawn.
Hornigold continued. “The Templars know order, discipline, structure. But you never could fathom these subtleties. Good-bye, old friend! You were a soldier once! When you fought for something real. Something beyond yourself!”