“Not so. Every mechanism that gives this device its light is a true and physical thing. Ancient, yes, but nothing supernatural or strange.”
I looked doubtfully at him, thinking, You’re kidding yourself, mate. But decided not to pursue it.
“We’ll be masters of the ocean with that,” I said. Wanting to hold the skull, reaching out to take it from him, overcome with the desire to feel the weight of it in my palm. I felt a tremble as he came forward with it, his hand outstretched. And then, instead of giving it to me, he whipped it around and struck me in the face with it, knocking me across the floor of The Observatory, then over the precipice of the pit.
I fell, slamming into the stone on the way down, whipped by the vegetation that clung to the rock face but unable to get a grip on it and stop my fall. I felt a searing pain in my side, then smacked into the water below, thanking God I had the presence of mind to turn my fall into the semblance of a dive. From that height, that instinct might have saved my life.
Even so, my entrance into the water was a messy one. I crashed into it and floundered, swallowing water, trying not to let the pain in my side drag me under. As I broke the surface and gasped for breath I looked up, only to see Roberts gazing down upon me.
“There’s nothing in my code about loyalty, young man.” He taunted me, his voice echoing in the distance between us. “You played your role, but our partnership is done.”
“You’re a dead man, Roberts,” I roared back, only I couldn’t quite manage a roar. My voice was weak and, anyway, he’d left, and I was too busy trying to tend to the flaming pain in my side and pull myself to safety.
When I pulled myself to the side what I found was a branch sticking from my side, the wound colouring my robes red. I yanked it out with a scream, tossed the stick away and clenched my teeth as I held the wound, feeling blood seep through my fingers. Roberts, you bastard. You bastard.
With the wound still held closed, I climbed back to The Observatory, then limped out and back down to the beach, pain-sweat pouring off me. But as I stumbled out of the long grass and onto the beach what I saw filled me with anguish. The Jackdaw, my beloved Jackdaw, had left. There was just the Rover anchored off shore.
There, where the beach met the sea, was moored a yawl, the coxswain and rowers silent sentinels with the sea at their backs as they awaited their captain—Captain Bartholomew Roberts, who stood before me at the entrance to the beach.
He crouched. His eyes flashed and he smiled that peculiar joyless smile of his. “Oh . . . your Jackdaw has flown, Edward, eh? That’s the beauty of a democracy . . . The many outvote the one. Aye, you could sail with me, but with a temper as hot as yours I fear you’d burn us all to cinders. Luckily I know the King’s bounty on your head is a large one and I intend to collect.”
The pain was too much. I could hold it together no more and felt myself passing out. The last thing I heard as the darkness claimed me was Bartholomew Roberts, softly taunting me.
“Have you ever seen the inside of a Jamaican prison, boy? Have you?”
A lot can happen in six months. But in the six months to November 1720, it happened to other people. Me, I was mouldering in jail in Kingston. While Bartholomew Roberts became the most feared pirate of the Caribbean, commanding a squadron of four vessels, his flagship The Royal Fortune at its head, I was trying and failing to sleep on a roll on the floor of a cell so cramped I couldn’t lie straight. I was picking maggots from my food and holding my nose to get it down. I was drinking dirty water and praying it wouldn’t kill me. I was watching the striped grey light from the bars of the door and listening to the clamour of the jail: the curses; night-time screams; a constant clanging that never ceased, as though someone, somewhere, spent all day and night rattling a cup along the bars; and, sometimes, I was listening to my own voice, just to remind myself that I was still alive, when I would curse my luck, curse Roberts, curse Templars, curse my crew . . .
I had been betrayed—by Roberts, of course, though that was no surprise—but also by the Jackdaw. My time in jail gave me the distance I needed to see how my obsession with The Observatory had blinded me to the needs of my men, and I stopped blaming them for leaving me at Long Bay. I’d decided if I was lucky enough to see them again I’d greet them like brothers and tell them I bore no grudge and offer apologies of my own. Even so. The image of the Jackdaw’s sailing away without me burned like a brand on my brain.
Not for much longer though. No doubt my trial approached—though I had yet to hear, of course. And after my trial would come my hanging.
Yesterday they had one. A pirate hanging, I mean. The trial was held in Spanish Town, and five of the men tried went to the gallows the day after at Gallows Point. They hanged the other six the next day in Kingston.
One of those they hung yesterday was “Captain John Rackham,” the man we all knew as Calico Jack.
Poor old Jack. Not a good man but not an especially bad one, either. And who can say fairer than that? I hoped he’d managed to get enough liquor down him before they sent him to the gallows. Keep him warm for the journey to the other side.
Thing was, Calico Jack had a couple of lieutenants, and their trial was to start this very day. I was due to be brought up into the courtroom, in fact, where they said I might be needed as a witness although they hadn’t said whether for the defence or the prosecution.
The two lieutenants, you see, were Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
And therein lies a tale. I’d witnessed the story’s beginning with what I saw at The Observatory: Calico Jack and Anne Bonny were lovers. Jack had worked his charm, tempted her away from James (that scurvy toad) and taken her to sea.
On board she dressed as a man and she wasn’t the only one. Mary Read was aboard ship too, dressed as James Kidd, and the three of them—Calico Jack, Anne and Mary—were all in on it. The two women wore men’s jackets, long trousers and scarves around their necks. They carried pistols and cutlasses and were as fearsome as any man—and more dangerous, what with having more to prove.
For a while they sailed the neighbourhood terrorizing merchant ships, until earlier in the year, when they stopped off at New Providence. There on August 22, the year of our Lord 1720, Rackham and a load of his crew, including Anne and Mary, stole a sloop called the William from Nassau harbour.
Of course Rogers knew exactly who was responsible. He issued a proclamation and despatched a sloop crammed with his own men to catch Calico Jack and his crew.