I found a boarding-house in town and there rested the night. The next morning I bartered for a horse and saddle and set off for Hatherton, riding until I reached my father’s old farmhouse.
Why I went there, I’m not quite sure. I think I just wanted to see it. And so for long moments that’s what I did. I stood by the gate in the shade of a tree and contemplated my old home. It had been rebuilt, of course, and was only partly recognizable as the house in which I had grown up. But one thing that had remained the same was the outhouse: the outhouse where my marriage to your mother had begun, the outhouse in which you were conceived, Jennifer.
I left, then halfway between Hatherton and Bristol, a road I knew so well, I stopped at a place I also knew well. The Auld Shillelagh. I tethered my horse outside, made sure she had water, then stepped in to find it almost exactly as I remembered it: the low ceilings, a darkness that seemed to seep from the walls. The last time I was here I had killed a man. My first man. Many more had fallen beneath my blade since.
More to come.
Behind the bar was a woman in her fifties, and she raised her tired head to look at me as I approached.
“Hello, Mother,” I said.
She took me to a side table away from the prying eyes of the few drinkers there.
“So it’s true then?” she asked me. Her long hair had grey streaks in it. Her face was drawn and tired. It was only (only?) ten years since I’d last seen her but it was as though she had aged twenty, thirty, more.
All my fault.
“What’s true, Mother?” I asked carefully.
“You’re a pirate?”
“No, Mother, I’m not a pirate. No longer. I’ve joined an Order.”
“You’re a monk?” She cast an eye over my robes.
“No, Mother, I’m not a monk. Something else.”
She sighed, looking unimpressed. Over at the bar, the landlord was towelling tankards, watching us with the eye of a hawk. He begrudged her the time she spent away from the bar but wasn’t about to say anything. Not with the pirate Edward Kenway around.
“And you decided to come back, did you?” she was saying. “I heard that you had. That you sailed into port yesterday, stepped off a glittering galleon like some kind of king. The big I-am, Edward Kenway. That’s what you always wanted, wasn’t it?”
“Mother . . .”
“That was what you were always going on about, wasn’t it? Wanting to go off and make your fortune, make something of yourself, become a man of quality, wasn’t it? That involved becoming a pirate, did it?” She sneered. I didn’t think I’d ever seen my mother sneer before. “You were lucky they didn’t hang you.”
They still might if they catch me.
“It’s not like that anymore. I’ve come to make things right.”
She pulled a face like she’d tasted something nasty. Another expression I’d never seen before. “Oh yes, and how do you plan to do that?”
I waved a hand. “Not have you working here, for a start.”
“I’ll work wherever I like, young man,” she scoffed. “You needn’t think you’re paying me off with stolen gold. Gold that belonged to other folks before they were forced to hand it to you at the point of your sword. Eh? Is that it?”
“It’s not like that, Ma,” I whispered, feeling young all of a sudden. Not like the pirate Edward Kenway at all. This wasn’t how I’d imagined it would be. Tears, embraces, apologies, promises. Not like this.
I leaned forward. “I don’t want it to be like this, Ma,” I said quietly.
She smirked. “That was always your trouble, wasn’t it, Edward? Never happy with what you got.”
“No . . .” I began, exasperated, “I mean . . .”
“I know what you mean. You mean you made a mess of things, then you left us to clear up your mess, and now you’ve got some finery about you, and a bit of money, you think you can come back and pay me off. You’re no better than Hague and Scott and their cronies.”
“No, no, it’s not like that.”
“I heard you arrived with a little girl in tow. Your daughter?”
She pursed her lips and nodded, a little sympathy creeping into her eyes. “It was her who told you about Caroline, was it?”
My fists clenched. “She did.”
“She told you Caroline was sick with the pox, and that her father refused her medicine, and that she ended up wasting away at that house on Hawkins Lane. She told you that, did she?”
“She told me that, Ma, yes.”
She scratched at her head and looked away. “I loved that girl. Caroline. Really loved her. Like a daughter she was to me, until she went away.” She shot me a reproachful look. That was your fault. “I visited the funeral, just to pay my respects, just to stand at the gate, but Scott was there, and all his cronies, Matthew Hague and that Wilson fellow. They ran me off the place. Said I wasn’t welcome.”
“They’ll pay for that, Ma,” I said through clenched teeth. “They’ll pay for what they’ve done.”
She looked quickly at me. “Oh yes? How are they going to pay then, Edward? Tell me that. You going to kill them, are you? With your sword? Your pistols? Word is, they’ve gone into hiding, the men you seek.”
“Ma . . .”
“How many men have died at your hand, eh?” she asked.
I looked at her. The answer, of course, was countless.
She was shaking, I noticed. With fury.
“You think that makes you a man, don’t you?” she said, and I knew her words were about to hurt more than any blade. “But do you know how many men your father killed, Edward? None. Not one. And he was twice the man you are.”
I winced. “Don’t be like this. I know I could have done things differently. I wish I’d done things differently. But I’m back now—back to sort out the mess I made.”
She was shaking her head. “No, no, you don’t understand, Edward. There is no mess anymore. The mess needed sorting out when you left. The mess needed sorting out when your father and I cleared up what remained of our home and tried to start again. It put years on him, Edward. Years. The mess needed sorting out when nobody would trade with us. Not a letter from you. Not a word. Your daughter was born, your father died, and not a peep from the great explorer.”
“You don’t understand. They threatened me. They threatened you. They said if I ever returned, they’d hurt you.”