Then—Sail ho!—came the British naval warship the HMS Swallow, and with a lurch of horror I realized she was after Roberts. This heavily armed, determined warship was no doubt as sickened by the stories of his exploits as we had been. She was after Roberts too.

Leave them to it? No. I couldn’t allow them to sink the Fortune. Roberts had The Observatory Skull with him. I couldn’t risk its sinking to the bottom of the sea, never to be seen again.

“There is a device within that needs taking,” I told Anne. “I have to board her myself.”

Carriage-guns boomed in the morning, the three ships locked in combat now, the Jackdaw and Swallow with a common enemy but not allies. We came under fire from all sides, as British shot peppered our gunwales and shook our shrouds. I gave Anne the order to make haste away.

Me, I was going for a swim.

It isn’t easy to swim from one ship to another, especially if both are involved in battle. But then, most are not gifted with my determination. I had the cover of the half-light on my side, not to mention the fact that the crew of the Fortune already had enough to contend with. When I climbed aboard I found a ship in disarray. A ship I was able to pass through virtually undetected.

I took my fair share of scalps along the way, and I’d cut the throat of the first mate and killed the quartermaster before I found Black Bart, who turned to face me with his sword drawn. He had changed, I noted, almost with amusement. He had put on his best bib and tucker to meet the English: a crimson waistcoat and breeches, a hat with a red feather, a pair of pistols on silk slings over his shoulders. What hadn’t changed were those eyes of his. Those dark eyes that were surely a reflection of the blackened, corroded soul inside.

We fought, but it was not a fight of any distinction. Black Bart Roberts was a cruel man, a cunning man, a wise man if wisdom can exist in a man so devoid of humanity. But he was not a swordsman.

“By Jove,” he called as we fought, “Edward Kenway. How can I not be impressed by the attention you’ve paid me?”

I refused him the courtesy of a reply. I fought on, relentlessly, confident not in my skill—for that would have been arrogant, the Edward Kenway of old—but in a belief that I would emerge the victor. Which I did, and at last he fell to the deck with my blade embedded in him, pulling me into a crouch.

He smiled, his fingers going to where the blade was stuck in his chest. “A merry life and a short one, as promised,” he said. “How well I know myself.” He smirked a little. His eyes bored into me. “What of you, Edward? Have you found the peace you seek?”

“I’m not aiming so high as that,” I told him, “for what is peace but a confusion between two wars?”

He looked surprised for a second, as though thinking me incapable of anything other than grunts and demands for gold or another tankard. How pleasing it was that in his final moments, Bartholomew Roberts witnessed the change in me, knew that his death at my hands was not driven by greed but by something nobler.

“You’re a stoic then.” He laughed. “Perhaps I was wrong about you. She might have had some use for you after all.”

“She?” I said, puzzled. “Of whom do you speak?”

“Oh . . . She who lies in wait. Entombed. I had hoped to find her, to see her again. To open the door of the temple and hear her speak my name once more Aita . . .”

Mumbo jumbo. More bloody mumbo jumbo.

“Talk sense, man.”

“I was born too soon, like so many others before.”

“Where’s the device, Roberts?” I asked him, tired now—tired of his riddles, even at the end.

From his clothes he pulled the skull and offered it to me with fingers that shook.

“Destroy this body, Edward,” he said, as I took it and the last of the life seeped from him. “The Templars . . . If they take me . . .”

He died. It was not for him, nor for the peace of his soul, that I tossed his body overboard, consigning it to the depths. But so that the Templars would not have him. Whoever—whatever—this Sage had been, the safest place for his body was at the bottom of the sea.

And now, Grand Master Torres. I’m coming for you.

SIXTY-FOUR

Arriving in Havana a few days before, I’d found the city in a state of high alert. Torres, it appeared, had been warned of my imminent arrival and was taking no chances: soldiers patrolled the streets, citizens were being searched and forced to reveal their faces, and Torres himself had gone into hiding—accompanied, of course, by his trusty bodyguard, El Tiburón.

I’d used The Observatory Skull. Under the watchful eye of the Assassin Bureau Chief, Rhona Dinsmore, I took a vial of Torres’s blood in one hand and the skull in the other. As she watched me work I wondered how I might look to her: Like a madman? A magician? A man using ancient science?

“Through the blood of the governor, we can see through his eyes,” I told her.

She looked as intrigued as she did doubtful. After all, I wasn’t sure of it myself. I’d seen it work in The Observatory, but in images conjured up in the chamber by Roberts. Here I was trying something new.

I needn’t have worried. The red of the blood in the vial seemed to bathe the inside of the skull and its eyeholes burned scarlet as the skull first began to glow, then display images on its polished dome. We were looking through the eyes of Governor Laureano Torres, who was looking . . .

“That’s . . . That’s by the church,” she said, amazed.

Moments later I’d been in pursuit, followed Torres as far as his fort, where the trap had been sprung. At some point a decoy had taken Torres’s place. It was he who fell beneath my blade, and there, waiting for me beneath the walls of the fort, implacable, silent as ever, was El Tiburón.

• • •

You should have killed me when you had the chance, I thought. Because whereas on the last occasion he’d bested me, it was a different Edward Kenway he’d met in battle on that occasion; things had changed in the meantime—I had changed—and I had much to prove to him . . .

So if he’d hoped to beat me easily, as he had before, he was disappointed. He came forward, feinting then switching sides, but I anticipated the move, defended easily, hit him on the counter, opened a nick in his cheek.

There was no grunt of pain, not from El Tiburón. But in those cloudy eyes was just the merest hint, the tiniest glimmer of something I hadn’t seen last time we fought. Fear.

That gave me a boost better than any shot of liquor, and once again I came forward with my blades flashing. He was forced onto the back foot, defending left and right, trying to find a weak spot in my attack but failing. Where were his guards? He hadn’t summoned them, believing this would be an easy kill.

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