“You must take me to The Observatory, Roberts,” I said firmly. “I need to know what it is.”
Roberts twinkled. “To what end, hey? Will you sell it from under my nose? Or work with me and use it to bolster our gains?”
“Whatever improves my lot in life,” I said guardedly.
He closed the chest with a snap and placed both hands on the curved lid. “How ridiculous. A merry life and a short life, that’s my motto. It’s all the optimism I can muster.”
He seemed to consider. I held my breath, again, that thought, What now? Then he looked at me and the mischievous look in his eyes had departed, in its place a blank stare. “All right, Captain Kenway. You’ve earned a look.”
“Can you feel it, Adewalé,” I said to him, as we followed the Rover around the coast of Brazil. “We’re moments away from the grandest prize of all.”
“I feel nothing but hot wind in my ears, Captain,” he said enigmatically, face in the wind, sipping at the breeze.
I looked at him. Once again I felt almost overpowered with admiration for him. Here was a man who had probably saved my life on hundreds of occasions and definitely saved my life on at least three. Here was the most loyal, committed and talented quartermaster a captain could ever have; who had escaped slavery yet still had to deal with the jibes of common mutineers like Calico Jack, who thought themselves above him because of his colour. Here was a man who had overcome all the bilge life had thrown at him, and it was a lot of bilge, the kind that only a man sold as a slave will ever know. A man who stood by my side on the Jackdaw day after day and demanded no great prizes, no rich-making haul, demanded little but the respect he deserved, enough of the shares to live on, a place to rest his head, and a meal made by a cook without a nose.
How had I repaid this man?
By going on and on and on about The Observatory.
And still going on about it.
“Come on, man. When we take this treasure, we’ll be set for life. All of us. Ten times over.”
He nodded. “As you wish.”
By then the Jackdaw was not far from the Rover and I looked across the deck to see their captain, just as he looked over to see me.
“Ahoy, Roberts!” I called over. “We’ll cast anchor and meet ashore.”
“You were followed, Captain Kenway. How long for, I wonder?”
I snatched the spyglass from Adewalé and scuttled up the rat-lines, shouldering aside the lookout in the crow’s-nest and putting the spyglass to my eyes.
“What do you think that is, lad?” I snarled at the lookout.
He was young—as young as I was when I had first joined the crew of the Emperor. “It’s a ship, sir, but there are plenty of vessels in these waters, and I didn’t think it close enough to raise the alarm.”
I snapped the glass shut and glared at him. “You didn’t think at all, did you? That ship out there isn’t any other ship, son, it’s the Benjamin.”
The lad paled.
“Aye, that’s right, the Benjamin, captained by one Benjamin Hornigold. If they’ve not caught up with us then it’s because they haven’t wanted to catch up with us yet.”
I began to make my way down the rat-lines, pausing. While I’d looked at the Benjamin I’d seen the returning glint of a spyglass from the top of her mainmast.
“Call it then, lad,” I shouted up to the lookout. “Sound the alarm, late as it is.”
The Cuban coast was to our starboard, the Benjamin behind us. But now I was at the tiller, and I hauled her over, the rudder complaining as she turned, the men reaching for a handhold as our masts swung, our port side dipped and we began to come around, until the manoeuvre was complete and the men were complaining and moaning as the oars were deployed, the sails reefed and we began a trudge aimed at meeting the Benjamin head-on. You won’t be expecting that, will you, Benjamin?
“Captain, think carefully about what you mean to do here,” said Adewalé.
“What are you griping about, Adewalé? It’s Ben Hornigold come to kill us out there.”
“Aye, and that traitor needs to die. But what then? Can you say with certainty that you deserve The Observatory more than he and his Templars?”
“No, I can’t and I don’t care to try. But if you’ve a better idea, by all means tell me.”
“Forget working with Roberts,” he said with a sudden surge of passion, something I’d rarely seen from him, such a cool head usually. “Tell the Assassins. Bring them here and let them protect The Observatory.”
“Aye, I’ll bring them here. If they’re willing to pay me a good sum for it, I will.”
He made a disgusted noise and walked away.
Ahead of us the Benjamin had turned—Hornigold with no stomach for a fight, it seemed—and we saw the men in her masts securing the sails. Oars appeared and were soon spanking the water, our two ships in a rowing race now. For long moments all I could hear was the shout of the coxswain, the creak of the ship, the splash of the sweepers in the water, as I stood at the bow of the Jackdaw and Hornigold stood at the stern of the Benjamin, and we stared at one another.
As we raced, the sun dipped below the horizon, flickering orange the last of its light as night fell and brought with it a wind from the north-west that dragged fog inland. The Benjamin anticipated the wind with more success than we did. The first we knew of it was seeing her sails unfurl, and she put distance between herself and us.
Some fifteen minutes later, it was dark and fog billowed in towards that part of the Cuban coast-line they call the Devils Backbone, crags that look like the spine of a giant behemoth, a moon giving the mist a ghostly glow.
“We’ll have a hard fight if Hornigold draws us any deeper into this fog,” warned Ade.
That was Hornigold’s plan, though, but he’d made a mistake, and a big mistake for such an experienced sailor. But he found himself being hustled by the wind. It rushed in from the open sea, it charged at cross-purposes along the coast, turning the sand-banks of the Devil’s Backbone into a haze of impenetrable layers of fog and sand.
“The winds are tossing them about like a toy,” said Adewalé.
I pulled up the cowl of my robes against the chill wind that had just began to assault us as we came within its range.
“We can use that to get close.”
He looked at me. “If we are not dashed to pieces as well.”