“In honest service there are thin commons, low wages and hard labor. Yet as gentlemen of fortune we enjoy plenty and satisfaction, pleasure and ease, liberty and power . . . so what man with a sensible mind would choose the former life, when the only hazard we pirates run is a sour look from those without strength or splendour.
“Now, I have been among you six weeks, and in that time have adopted your outlook as my own, and with so fierce a conviction that it may frighten you to see your passions reflected from me in so stark a light. But . . . if it’s a captain you see in me now, aye then . . . I’ll be your bloody captain!”
You had to hand it to him, it was a rousing speech. In a few short sentences proclaiming his kinship, he had these men eating out of the palm of his hand. As the meeting broke up I approached, deciding now was the time to make my play.
“I’m looking for The Observatory,” I told him. “Folks say you’re the only man that can find it.”
“Folks are correct.”
He looked me up and down as if to confirm his impressions. “Despite my distaste for your eagerness, I see in you a touch of untested genius.” He held out his hand to shake. “I’m Bartholomew Roberts.”
“I’ve no secrets to share with you now,” he told me.
I stared at him, unable to believe what I was hearing. He was going to make me wait.
Damn the man. Damn Roberts.
He wanted me to wait two months. Two whole months. Then meet him west of the Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico. With only his word to take for that, I sailed the Jackdaw back to San Inagua. There I rested the crew for a while, and we took prizes when we could, and my coffers swelled, and it was during that period, I think, that I cut off the nose of the ship’s cook.
When we weren’t taking prizes and when I wasn’t slicing off noses, I brooded at my homestead. I wrote letters to Caroline in which I assured her I would soon be returning as a man of wealth, and I fretted over The Observatory, only too aware that with it lay all my hopes of a fortune. It was built on nothing more than a promise from Bartholomew Roberts.
And then what? The Observatory was a place of enormous potential wealth but even if I found it—even if Bart Roberts came good on his word—it remained only a source of potential wealth. Wasn’t it Edward who had scoffed at the very idea? Gold doubloons was what we wanted, he’d said. Perhaps he was right. Even if I found this amazing machine, how the bloody hell was I going to convert it into the wealth I hoped to acquire? After all, if there were riches to be made, then why hadn’t Roberts made them?
Because he has some other purpose.
I thought of my parents. My mind went back to the burning of our farmhouse and I thought anew of striking a blow at the Templars, this secret society who used its influence and power to grind down anyone who displeased it; to exercise a grudge. I still had no idea exactly who was behind the burning of my farmhouse. Or why. Was it a grudge against me for marrying Caroline and humiliating Matthew Hague? Or against my father, mere business rivalry? Probably both, was my suspicion. Perhaps the Kenways, these arrivals from Wales, who had shamed them so, simply deserved to be taken down a peg or two.
I would find out for sure, I decided. I would return to Bristol one day and exact my revenge.
On that I brooded too. Until the day came in September when I gathered the crew and we readied the Jackdaw, newly caulked, its masts and rigging repaired, its shrouds ready, its galley stocked and the munitions at capacity, and we set sail for our appointment with Bartholomew Roberts.
• • •
Like I say, I don’t think I ever truly knew what was on his mind. He had his own agenda and wasn’t about to share it with the likes of me. What he did like to do, however, was keep me guessing. Keep me hanging on. When we’d parted he’d told me he had business to attend to, which I later found out involved taking his own crew back to Principé and exacting his revenge for the death of Captain Howell Davis on the people of the island.
They’d attacked at night, put to the sword as many men as they could, and made off, not only with as much treasure as they could carry but the beginnings of Black Bart’s fearsome reputation: unknowable, brave and ruthless, and apt to carry off daring raids such as the one we were about to carry out, for example. The one that began with Roberts insisting that the Jackdaw join him on a jaunt around the coast of Brazil to the Todos os Santos Bay.
We didn’t have long to find out the reason why. A fleet of no less than forty-two Portuguese merchant ships. What’s more, with no navy escorts. Roberts lost no time in capturing one of the outlying vessels to “hold talks” with the captain. It wasn’t something I got involved with, but from the bruised Portuguese naval officer he’d learnt that the flagship had on it a chest, a coffer that, he told me, contained “crystal vials filled with blood. You may remember.”
Vials of blood. How could I forget?
• • •
We anchored the Jackdaw and I took Adewalé and a skeleton crew to join Roberts on his purloined Portuguese vessel. Up to now we’d remained at the fringes of the fleet, but now it seemed to split up, and we saw our chance. The flagship was testing her guns.
Anchored some distance away, we watched, and Bartholomew looked at me.
“Are you stealthy, Edward Kenway?”
“That I am,” I said.
He looked over to the Portuguese galleon. It was anchored not far from land, with most of the crew on the gun-deck firing inland, carrying out exercises. Never was there a better time to steal aboard, so at a nod from Bart Roberts I dived overboard and swam to the galleon, on a mission of death.
Climbing up a Jacob’s ladder I found myself on deck, where I moved quietly along the planks to the first man, engaged my blade, swept it quickly across his throat, then helped him to the deck and held my hand over his mouth while he died.
All the time I kept my eyes on the lookouts and crow’s-nest above.
I disposed of a second sentry the same way, then began scaling the rigging to the crow’s-nest. There a lookout scanned the horizon, his spyglass moving from left to right, past Roberts’s ship and back again.
He focused on Roberts’s vessel, his gaze lingered on it, and I wondered if his suspicions were churning. Perhaps so. Perhaps he was wondering why the men on board didn’t look like Portuguese merchantmen. He seemed to decide. He lowered the spyglass and I could see his chest inflate as though he were about to call out, just as I sprang into the lookout position, grabbed his arm and slid my blade into his armpit.