But how wrong he was, I thought, as I pressed forward, dodged to my left and swiped back-handed with my blade, opening a gash in his tunic and a deep cut in his stomach that began gushing blood.

It slowed him down. It weakened him. I allowed him to come forward, pleased to see his sword strokes becoming more wild and haphazard, as I carried on harrying him. Small but bloody strikes. Wearing him down.

He was slow then, his pain making him careless. Again I was able to drive forward with my cutlass, slash upwards with my hidden blade and twist it in his stomach. A mortal blow, surely?

His clothes were ragged and blood-stained. Blood from his stomach wound splattered to the ground, and he staggered with pain and exhaustion, looking at me mutely, but with all the pain of defeat in his eyes.

Until at last I put him down and he lay, losing precious life-blood, slowly dying in the heartless Havana sun. I crouched, blade to his throat ready to plunge it up beneath his chin into his brain. End it quickly.

“You humbled me once, and I took that hard lesson and I bettered myself . . .” I told him. “Die knowing that for all our conflicts, you helped make a soldier out of a scoundrel.”

My blade made a moist, squelching sound as I finished it.

“Leave this life for a lasting peace, down among the dead,” I told his corpse, and left.

SIXTY-FIVE

Desperate, Torres had fled. With a last throw of the dice, he’d decided to seek out The Observatory for himself.

I took the Jackdaw in pursuit, my heart sinking as with each passing hour there was no sighting of Torres, and with each passing hour we grew closer to Tulum. Would he find it? Did he already know where it was? Had he found another poor soul to torture. An Assassin?

We came around the coast of Tulum, and there was Torres’s galleon at anchor, smaller consorts bobbling by her sides. We saw the glint of spyglasses and I ordered hard port. Moments later black squares appeared in the hull of the Spanish galleon and sunlight shone dully off gun-barrels before there was a thud and a puff of fire and smoke, and balls were smacking into us and into the water around us.

The battle would continue but it would have to continue without its captain and also—as she insisted on coming with me—its quartermaster. Together Anne and I dived off the gunwale into bright blue water and swam for shore, then began the trek up the path to The Observatory.

It wasn’t long before we came upon the first corpses.

Just as the men on the galleon were fighting for their lives against the onslaught of the Jackdaw, so the men with Torres had been doing the same. They had been ambushed by the natives, the guardians of The Observatory, and from up ahead we could hear the sounds of more conflict, desperate shouts as the men at the rear of the column tried in vain to frighten off the natives.

“This land is under the protection of King Philip. Tell your men to disperse or die!”

But it was they who would die. As we passed through the undergrowth a short distance away from them I saw their terrified, uncomprehending faces go from the monolithic edifice of The Observatory—where had that come from?—to scanning the long grass around them. They would die like that: terrified and uncomprehending.

At the entrance to The Observatory were more bodies but the door was open and some had clearly made it inside. Anne bade me go in; she would stand guard, and so for the second time, I entered that strange and sacred place, that huge temple.

As I stepped inside I remembered the last time, when Roberts murdered his men rather than let them be unbalanced by what they saw in The Observatory. Sure enough, just as I crept into the vast entrance chamber, terrified Spanish soldiers were fleeing screaming, their eyes somehow blank, as though whatever life in them had already been extinguished. As though they were corpses running.

They ignored me and I let them go. Good. They’d distract the guardians of The Observatory on the outside. I pressed onwards, climbing stone steps, passing along the bridge chamber—more terrified soldiers—then towards the main control chamber.

I was halfway there when The Observatory began to hum. The same skull-crushing sound I’d heard on my first visit. I broke into a run, pushing past more frantic soldiers trying to make their escape and dashing into the main chamber where stone crumbled from the walls as The Observatory seemed to shake and vibrate with the droning noise.

Torres stood at the raised control panel, trying to make himself heard above the din, calling to guards who were either no longer there or trying to make their escape, trying to negotiate the stone that fell around us.

“Search the area. Find a way to stop this madness,” he screamed with his hands over his ears. He turned and with a lurch saw me.

“He’s here. Kill him,” he shouted, pointing. Spittle flew. In his eyes was something I’d never have believed him capable of: panic.

“Kill him!” Just two of his brave but foolhardy men were up to the challenge, and as the chamber shook, seemingly working itself loose around us, I made short work of them. Until the only men left in the chamber were Torres and me.

Then the Templar Grand Master cast his eye around the chamber, his gaze travelling from the dead bodies of his men back to me. The panic had gone now. Back was the Torres I remembered, and in his face was not defeat, nor fear, nor even sadness at his imminent death. There was fervour.

“We could have worked together, Edward,” he appealed with his hands outstretched. “We could have taken power for ourselves and brought these miserable empires to their knees.”

He shook his head as if frustrated with me, as though I were an errant son.

(No, sorry, mate, but I’m an errant son no longer.)

“There is so much potential in you, Edward,” he insisted, “so much you have not yet accomplished. I could show you things. Mysteries beyond anything you could imagine.”

No. He and his kind had done nothing for me save to seek the curtailment of my freedom and take the lives of my friends. Starting with the night in Bristol when a torch in a farmyard was flung, his kind had brought me nothing but misery.

I drove the blade in and he grunted with pain as his mouth filled with blood that spilled over his lips.

“Does my murder fulfil you?” he asked weakly.

No, no it didn’t.

“I’m only seeing a job done, Torres. As you would have done with me.”

“As we have done, I think,” he managed. “You have no family anymore, no friends, no future. Your losses are far greater than ours.”

“That may be, but killing you rights a far greater wrong than ever I did.”

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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