Now the sails were rolled up again, but on the Benjamin they weren’t so quick. They were being buffeted by the wind. I saw men trying to reef the sails but finding it tough in the conditions. One fell, his scream carried to us by the gusts.
Now the Benjamin was in trouble. It bobbled on an increasingly choppy sea, buffeted by the wind that snatched at its sails, turning it first one way, then another. It veered close towards the banks of the Backbone. Men scurried about the decks. Another was blown overboard. They’d lost control. They were at the mercy of the elements.
I stood on the forecastle deck, one hand braced and the other held out, feeling the wind on my palm. I felt the pressure of the hidden blade on my forearm and knew it would taste the blood of Hornigold before the night was old.
“Can you do this, breddah? Is your heart up for it?”
Benjamin Hornigold, who had taught me so much about the way of the sea. Benjamin Hornigold, the man who had established Nassau, who had mentored my greatest friend Edward Thatch, who in turn had mentored me. Actually, I didn’t know if I could.
Truth be told, I was hoping the sea would swallow him up, and see the job done for me, I told him. “But I’ll do what I must.”
My quartermaster. God bless my quartermaster. He knew the fate of the Benjamin before the fates even knew of the fate of the Benjamin. As it crashed sidelong into a high bank-side, seemingly wrenched from the sea by a gust of wind and spirited into a cloud of sand and fog, he saw to it that we drew alongside.
We saw the shapes of crew members tumbling from her tops decks, figures indistinct in the murk. I stepped up to the gunwale of the forecastle deck, braced with one hand on the bow strip then used the Sense, just as James Kidd had shown me. Among those falling bodies of men who slipped from the deck of the ship onto the boggy sand-banks and into the water, I was able to make out the form of Benjamin Hornigold. Over my shoulder I said, “I’ll be coming back.”
And then I jumped.
The snap of muskets from the Jackdaw began behind me as a one-sided battle between my ship and the crew of the beached Benjamin began. My senses had returned to normal, but Hornigold was doing me a favour, shouting encouragement and curses to his men.
“Some mighty poor sailing back there, lads, and if we live out this day, by God, I’m flaying every last bitch of you. Hold your ground and be ready for anything.”
I appeared from the mist on the bank nearby, and rather than heed his own words he took to his heels, scrambling along to the top of the incline, then across it.
My men had started to use mortars on the fleeing crew of the Benjamin, though, and I found myself placed in danger as they began raining onto the sand around me. Until one exploded near Benjamin and the next thing I knew he was disappearing out of sight over the other side of the sand-bank in a spray of blood and sand.
I scrambled over the top, made hasty by my desire to see his fate, and paid for it with a sword swipe across my arm, opening a cut that bled. In a single movement I span, engaged the blades and met his next attack, our steel sparking as it met. The force of his attack was enough to send me tumbling down the bank and he came after me, launching himself from the slope with his cutlass swinging. I caught him on my boots and kicked him away, his sword point parting the air before my nose. Rolling, I pulled myself to my feet and scrambled after him, and again our blades met. For some moments we traded blows, and he was good, but he was hurt and I was the younger man, and I was lit by vengeful fire. And so I cut his arm, his elbow, his shoulder—until he could hardly stand or raise his sword and I finished him.
“You could have been a man who stood for something true,” he said as he died. His lips worked over the words carefully. His teeth were blood-stained. “But you’ve a killer’s heart now.”
“Well it’s a damn sight better than what you have, Ben,” I told him. “The heart of a traitor, who thinks himself better than his mates.”
“Aye, and proven true. What have you done since Nassau fell? Nothing but murder and mayhem.”
I lost my temper, rounded on him. “You threw in with the very kind we once hated!” I shouted.
“No,” he said. He reached to grab at me and make his point, but I angrily batted his hands away. “These Templars are different. I wish you could see that. But if you continue on your present course, you’ll find you’re the only one left walking it. With the gallows at the end.”
“That may be,” I said, “but now the world has one less snake in it and that’s enough for me.”
But he didn’t hear me. He was already dead.
“Is the pirate hunter dead?” said Bartholomew Roberts.
I looked at him, Bartholomew Roberts, this unknowable character, a Sage, a carpenter who had turned to a life of piracy. Was this the first time he’d visited The Observatory? Why did he need me here? So many questions—questions to which I knew I would never be given answers.
We were at Long Bay, on the northern shores of Jamaica. He had been loading his pistols as I arrived. Then he asked his question, to which I replied, “Aye, by my own hand.”
He nodded and went back to cleaning his pistols. I looked at him and found a sudden rage gripped me. “Why is it you alone can find what so many want?”
He chuckled. “I was born with memories of this place. Memories of another time entirely, I think. Like . . . Like another life I have already led.”
I shook my head and wondered whether I would ever be free of this mumbo jumbo.
“Curse you for a lurch, man, and speak some sense.”
Nor any other day, I thought angrily, but before I could find a reply there came a noise from the jungle.
Natives? Perhaps they had been disturbed by the battle between the Jackdaw and Benjamin that had ended. At the moment, what remained of Hornigold’s crew was being herded aboard the Jackdaw and I had left my men to it—deal with the prisoners and await my return shortly—and embarked on this meeting with Bartholomew Roberts alone.
He gestured to me. “After you, Captain. The path ahead is dangerous.”
With around a dozen of his men we began to move through the jungle, beating a path through the undergrowth as we began to head upwards. I wondered, should I be able to see it by now, this Observatory? Weren’t they great constructs, built on high peaks? All around us the hillsides waved greenery at us. Bushes and palm trees. Nothing made by man as far as the eye can see, unless you counted our ships in the bay.