I swept my other arm across his neck to silence any cries as blood gushed from beneath his arm and he breathed his last as I let him fold to the well of the crow’s-nest.
That accomplished, Bart’s ship came alongside, and as I descended the rat-lines the two ships bumped and his men began pouring over the sides.
A hatch in the quarter-deck opened and Portuguese sailors appeared, but they stood no chance. Their throats were cut, their bodies thrown overboard. In a matter of a few bloody moments the galleon was controlled by Bart Roberts’s men. Fat lot of good their gun training had done.
Everything that could be pillaged was pillaged. A deck-hand who dragged the coffer on deck and grinned at his captain, hoping for some words of praise, got none. Roberts ignored him and indicated for the chest to be loaded on his stolen ship.
Then, suddenly, came a shout from the lookouts, “Sail ho!” and in the next instant we were piling back to the stolen ship, some of the slow men even falling to the sea as Roberts’s ship pulled away from the flagship and we set sail, two Portuguese naval warships bearing down upon us.
There was the pop of muskets but they were too far away to do any damage. Thank God we were in a stolen Portuguese ship; they had no desire to fire their carriage guns at us. Not yet. Probably they hadn’t worked it out yet. Probably they were still wondering what the bloody hell was going on.
We came around the bay, sails pregnant with wind, men dashing below decks to man the guns. Ahead of us was anchored the Jackdaw, and I prayed that Adewalé had ordered lookouts and thanked God my quartermaster was an Adewalé and not a Calico Jack, and so would have made sure the lookouts were posted. I prayed that those very lookouts would at this very moment be relaying the news that Roberts’s vessel was speeding towards them with the Portuguese Navy in pursuit and that they would at this very moment be manning their positions and weighing anchor.
Even though we were being pursued, I still had time to admire what to my eyes is one of the most beautiful sights of the sea. The Jackdaw, men on its rigging, its sails unfurling gracefully, being secured, then blooming with a noise I could hear even from my vantage point far away.
Still, our speed meant we caught them smartly, just as the Jackdaw was gaining speed herself, and after exchanging quick words with Roberts I stood on the poop deck and my mind returned to the sight of Duncan Walpole, he who had begun this whole journey, as I leapt from the poop of Robert’s ship back onto the Jackdaw.
“Ah, there’s nothing like the hot winds of hell blowing in your face!” I heard Roberts cry as I crouched and watched as our two vessels peeled apart. I gave orders to man the stern guns below. The Portuguese reluctance to open fire was over, but their hesitancy had cost them dear, for it was the Jackdaw who took first blood.
I heard our stern guns boom, then spin back across the deck below. I saw hot metal speed over the face of the ocean and slam into the leading ship, saw splinters fly from jagged holes in the bow and along the hull, men and bits of men joining the debris already littering the sea. The bow gained wings of foam as it dipped and I could imagine the scene below decks, men at the pumps, but the vessel was already shipping too much water and soon . . .
She turned in the water, listing, her sails flattening. A cheer went up from my men but from around her came the second ship, and that was when Bartholomew Roberts decided to test his own guns.
His shot found its mark, just as mine had, and once more we were treated to the sight of the Portuguese vessel ploughing on, even as the bowsprit dipped and the bow sank, her hull looking as though it had been the victim of a giant shark attack.
Soon both ships were seriously floundering, the second one more badly damaged than the first, and boats were being launched, men were jumping over the side and the Portuguese Navy had, for the time being at least, forgotten about us.
We sailed, celebrating for some hours until Roberts commanded both vessels to drop anchor and I stood alert on the quarter-deck wondering, What now?
I’d primed my pistols, and my blade was at the ready, and via Adewalé I’d told the crew that if there were any signs of a betrayal they were to fight to save themselves, don’t surrender to Roberts, no matter what. I’d seen how he treated those he considered his enemy. I’d seen how he treated his prisoners.
Now, though, he called me across, having his men on the rat-lines swing me a line so that first I, then Adewalé, could cross to his ship. I stood on the deck and faced him, a tension in the air, so thick you could almost taste it, because if Roberts did plan to betray us, then that was the time. My hand flexed at my blade mechanism.
Whatever Roberts was planning—and it was safe to say that he was planning something—it wasn’t for just then. At a word from him, two of his crewmates came forward with the chest we had liberated from the Portuguese flagship.
“Here’s my prize,” said Roberts, with his eyes on me. It was a coffer full of blood. That was what he had promised. Hardly the grand prize I was after. But we would see. We would see.
The two hands set down the chest and opened it. As the crew gathered I was reminded of the day I had fought Blaney on the deck of Edward Thatch’s galleon and they gathered round to watch us. They did the same now. They clambered on mast and in the rigging and stood on the gunwales in order to get a better look as their captain reached into the chest and picked out one of the vials and examined it in the light.
A murmur of disappointment ran around those watching. No gold for you, lads. No silver pieces of eight. Sorry. Just vials that probably to the untrained eye might have been wine but that I knew were blood.
Oblivious to his crew’s disappointment and no doubt uncaring of it anyway, Roberts was examining the vials, one by one.
“All the Templars have been busy, I see . . .” He replaced a vial with nimble fingers that danced over the glittering crystals as he picked out another one, held it up to the light and examined it. Around us the men, disconsolate with the turn of events, began descending the rat-lines, jumped down from the gunwales and began to go about their business.
Roberts squinted as he held up yet another crystal.
“Laurens Prins’s blood,” he said to me, then tossed it to me. “Useless now.”
I stared carefully at it as Roberts cycled quickly through the contents of the coffer, calling out names, “Woodes Rogers. Ben Hornigold. Even Torres himself. Small quantities, kept for a special purpose.”
Something to do with The Observatory. But what? The time for taunting me with promises was over. I felt anger beginning to rise. Most of his men had gone back to work, the quartermaster and first mate stood nearby, but I had Adewalé. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to show Bartholomew Roberts how serious I was. Maybe it was time to show him that I was sick and tired of being messed around with. Maybe it was time to use my blade to insist that he tell me what I wanted.