He left, almost breaking into a run. From the warehouse came his reinforcements and the men closed in behind him, forming a crescent around me.
Taking them by surprise, I started quickly forward, grabbed a sailor who waved his sword to no particular effect and span him, using him as a shield and pushing him forward so that his boots skidded on the harbour stone.
At the same time there was the crack of a pistol and my human shield took a musket ball that was meant for me before I shoved him into the line of men and with my left hand snatched out my first pistol. I shot a heavy in the mouth, holstered it and snatched my second at the same time as I engaged the blade and sliced open a third man’s chest. Discharged the pistol. A wayward shot, it nevertheless did the job and stopped a man bearing a cutlass and sent him falling to the ground with his hands at his stomach.
I crouched and whirled, taking the legs from beneath the next man, finished him with a quick and ruthless blade-punch to the chest. Then I was on my feet, scattering the last two men, their faces portraits in terror, not wishing to join their comrades dead or bleeding on the harbour floor, and ran for my row-boat to get back to the Jackdaw.
As I worked the oars back to where my ship was moored I could imagine the conversation with my quartermaster; how he’d remind me that the men didn’t approve of my quest.
They’d approve, though, once we found The Observatory. Once we found The Sage.
And it took me a month, but I did.
I found him on Principé, one afternoon, in a camp full of corpses.
Now, here’s what I’d learnt about The Sage, whose full name I learned was Bartholomew Roberts, some of which was later told to me by him, some by others.
What I learnt was that we had something in common: we were both Welsh, me from Swansea, him from Casnewydd Bach, and that he had changed his name from John to Bartholomew. That he had gone to sea when he was just thirteen, as a carpenter, before finding himself an object of interest for this secret society known as the Templars.
At the beginning of 1719, with the Templars and the Assassins on his tail, The Sage had found himself serving as a third mate on the Princess, just as I’d been told, serving under Captain Abraham Plumb.
As I’d learnt in Kingston, in early June the Princess had been attacked by pirates in the Royal Rover and the Royal James, led by Captain Howell Davis. Somehow, Roberts, wily operator that he was, had inveigled himself in with Captain Howell Davis. He’d convinced the pirate captain, also a Welshman, as it happens, that he was a superb navigator, which he might well have been, but he was also able to talk to Captain Davis in Welsh, which created a further bond between the two men.
It was said that Bart Roberts was not keen on becoming a pirate at first. But as you’ll see, he took to his new job like he was born to it.
They landed on Principé. The Royal Rover, this was, what with the Royal James having to be abandoned with worm damage. So, the Royal Rover headed for Principé, and by hoisting British colours, was allowed to dock, where the crew played the part of visiting English sailors.
Now, according to what I heard, Captain Davis came up with a plan to invite the governor of Principé on board the Rover on the pretext of giving him lunch, and then as soon as he was aboard take him hostage and demand a huge ransom for his release.
Perfect. Couldn’t fail.
But when Davis took men to meet the governor, they were ambushed along the way.
Which was where I came in.
I crept into the camp, into the deserted scene of the ambush, where the fire had burned down to red embers and scattered around it, one man actually lying in the dying red embers of the fire, his corpse slowly cooking. Scattered around were more bodies. Some were soldiers, some were pirates.
“Captain Kenway?” came a voice, and I span around to see him there: The Sage. Perhaps I would have been pleased to see him; perhaps I would have thought my journey was at an end. If he hadn’t been pointing a gun at me.
At the insistence of his gun barrel I put my hands in the air.
“Another dire situation, Roberts. We must stop meeting like this.”
He smiled grimly. Does he bear me any ill will? I wondered. He had no idea of my plans, after all. A crazy part of me realized that I wouldn’t have been surprised if he could read minds.
“Stop following me and your wish would come true,” he said.
“There’s no need for this. You know I’m as good as my word.”
Around us the jungle was silent. Bartholomew Roberts seemed to be thinking. It was odd, I mused. Neither of us really had the measure of the other. Neither of us really knew what the other one wanted. I knew what I wanted from him, of course. But what about him? What did he want? I sensed that whatever it was, it would be more dark and more mysterious than I could possibly imagine. All I knew for sure was that death followed Bart Roberts and I wasn’t ready to die. Not yet.
He spoke. “Our Captain Howell was killed today in a Portuguese ambush. Headstrong fool. I warned him not to come ashore.”
It was to the recently deceased captain that Bartholomew Roberts’s thoughts went now. Evidently deciding I was not a threat, he holstered his pistol.
And, of course, the attack. I thought I knew who was behind it.
“It was orchestrated by the Templars,” I told him. “The same sort who took you to Havana.”
His long hair shook as he nodded, seeming to think at the same time. “I see now there is no escaping the Templars’ attention, is there? I suppose it is time to fight back?”
Now you’re talking, I thought.
As we’d been speaking I’d watched him peel off his sailors rags and pull on first the breeches of the dead captain, then move to take the shirt as well. The shirt was blood-stained so he discarded it, put his own back on, then hunched his shoulders into the captain’s coat. He pulled the tie from his hair and shook it free. He popped the captain’s tricorn on his head and its feather wafted as he turned to face me. This was a different Bartholomew Roberts. His time aboard ship had put health back in his cheeks. His dark, curly locks shone in the sun and he stood resplendent in a red jacket and breeches, white stockings, with a hat to match. He looked every inch the buccaneer. He looked every inch the pirate captain.
“Now,” he said, “we must go before Portuguese reinforcements arrive. We must get back to the Rover. I have an announcement to make there that I’d like you to witness.”
I thought I knew what it was, and I was surprised in one way—he was but a lowly deck-hand, after all—but unsurprised also, because this was Roberts. The Sage. The tricks up his sleeve were never-ending. Sure enough, when we arrived at the Rover, where the men waited nervously for news of the expedition, he leapt up to a crate to command their attention. They goggled at him up there: the lowly deck-hand, a new arrival on board to boot, now resplendent in the captain’s clothes.