Shandy glanced at Davies, who was squinting more than the fire glare called for, and though the set of his jaw made his cheeks even more lined and hollow than usual, Shandy caught a hint of how Davies must have looked as a young man - willful, and determined to conceal any misgivings once a course had been considered and decided on.
Boots grated on the sand nearby, and looking around Shandy saw old one-armed Benjamin Hurwood standing near him and staring out at the boat. Shandy thought Hurwood too was concealing what he felt, but, unlike Davies, Beth's father seemed to be tense with eagerness and impatience. Remembering some things Davies had told him about Hurwood, Shandy was pretty sure he knew why - and though he knew Hurwood was a murderer, he knew too that if he himself were ever to be in Hurwood's situation, and refrain from taking the course Hurwood was taking, it would be because of fear rather than virtue.
The boat crested an incoming breaker, and as the wave crashed to churning foam the boat rushed in until its keel jarred against the sand in the swirling shallows, and Blackbeard vaulted over the gunwale and splashed ponderously up to shore. His boatman - who, Shandy noticed with a shudder, had his jaw bound up - just sat in the boat, neither attempting to beach the thing nor to get out to deeper water before the next wave broke.
Blackbeard strode up the sand slope toward the fires, and paused for a moment where it leveled out, a big, jagged silhouette against the purple sky; his three-cornered hat seemed too tapering and long at the corners, and with the points of red light bobbing around his head he looked to Shandy like some three-horned demon newly climbed up from Hell.
Then he approached the fires, and the luminous red dots around his head were revealed to be the lit ends of match-cords woven into his shaggy mane and beard. He was a tall man, taller than Davies, and as solidly massive as a wind-etched rock outcrop.
"And here we are one year later, Mr. Hurwood," Blackbeard said. "You've brought us a fine ship, as you promised, and I've brought the herb you say we need - and here we are on Lammask in spite of your fears I'd be late." He spoke English with a slight accent, and Shandy couldn't decide whether it indicated a non-English origin or just a lack of interest and aptitude in speaking. "May we both get what we're seeking."
Behind the huge pirate Shandy saw Leo Friend, still panting from having hurried to the fires, grin furtively; and for the First time Shandy wondered if the fat young physician might have ambitions of his own in all this.
Blackbeard clumped in to the center of the cleared space, and Shandy noticed that his craggy face gleamed with sweat - perhaps because of his heavy black coat, the voluminous folds of which hung all the way down to his shins. "Phil?" said Blackbeard.
"Here, sir," said Davies, stepping forward.
"Feel recovered enough to come along?"
"Oh, aye, I'll do that. These are trying times." Blackbeard grinned, a rictus that exposed most of his teeth. "You were disobeying the orders."
Davies grinned back. "Unlike what you'd have done, of course."
"Hah." The giant looked around at the crowd, which was more or less separated into three groups - the three ships' crews. "Who else is - " He paused abruptly and stared at his own wide-cuffed sleeve, all expression leaving his dark face. The men nearby drew back, muttering cantrips, though Hurwood and Friend leaned forward and stared.
Shandy stared too, though not eagerly, and thought for a moment he saw the cuff twitch, and a faint puff of smoke curl out; then, very clearly, he saw a line of blood run down Blackbeard's two middle fingers and begin to drip off and fall to the sand. The pirate's long coat seemed to shiver, as though rats were running around underneath.
"Rum," the giant said in a voice both tense and quiet.
One of the men from the Carmichael's crew hurried forward with a jug, but Davies caught his collar and yanked him back. "Not just raw rum," Davies snapped. He took the jug, called for a cup, and after filling the cup he hurriedly uncorked his powder flask and shook a couple of handfuls of gunpowder into the drink. "Jack," he said. "A light, quick."
Shandy sprinted to the nearest fire and snatched up a stick with a flaming end, then hurried back to Davies, who was now holding the cup out away from himself, and he touched the blazing end of the stick to the cup's rim.
Instantly it was flaming and bubbling, and Davies took it to Blackbeard. Shandy thought he saw something like a little featherless bird clinging to Blackbeard's hand, but he was distracted by the sight of the huge pirate tilting his head all the way back and then simply inverting the fiery cup over his open mouth.
For a moment it seemed that his entire head had caught fire; then as quick as it had appeared the blaze was out, leaving just the dim corona of lit match-cords, and a puff of churning, redly luminous smoke hung over his head - and as soon as Shandy noticed its resemblance to a rage-contorted face, it was gone.
"Who's going with us?" Blackbeard asked harshly.
"Me and my quartermaster here, Jack Shandy," said Davies briskly, "and Bonnett and Hurwood, of course, and probably Hurwood's apprentice, Leo Friend, he's that fat boy there ... and Hurwood's daughter."
People were looking at Shandy, though Blackbeard wasn't yet, so Shandy didn't let his astonishment show - but he was angry that Davies hadn't told him Beth would be coming along into the swamp, for Davies had described to him the journey they were going to make tonight through the perilous marshes, and, evidently even more perilous, the "magical balancing point" they sought, way back in the nearly impenetrable fastnesses of primeval ooze and loathesomely adapted creatures, and he couldn't imagine bringing Beth Hurwood along.
"Your quartermaster," Blackbeard rumbled, absently crushing the cup. "What became of Hodge?"
"He was killed when we escaped from the Navy man-of-war," Davies said. "Shandy accomplished that escape."
"Caught some news of that," Blackbeard said thoughtfully. "Shandy - step forward."
Shandy did, and the huge pirate-king turned his gaze on him, and Shandy felt buffeted by the sheer impact of the man's undivided attention. For a moment Blackbeard just stared down mto his eyes, and Shandy felt his face heating up, for he could almost feel the closets and cupboards of his mind being opened and their contents being appraised.
"I see there was more aboard the Vociferous Carmichael than we knew," the giant said quietly, almost with suspicion. Then, more loudly, he said, "Welcome to the world, Shandy - I can see that Davies picked the right man."
"Thank you, sir," Shandy found himself saying. "Though don't ... I mean, it wasn't all quite ... "
"It never is. Prove yourself tonight when we reach the Fountain ... and though we travel with Baron Samedi and Maitre Carrefour, stand on your own feet." He turned away then, and Shandy, feeling as if he'd just stepped out of glaring sunlight into shade, heaved a sigh and let his constricted psyche spring back out to its normal extent.
Incoming waves had first half filled Blackbeard's boat but then nudged it up into the shallows, and several sailors had begun to unload a large box from the craft, awkwardly because of their reluctance to get near the stiffly motionless boatman. The pirate-king spat in disgust and strode away to oversee the work.
Shandy turned around and almost bumped into the imposing belly of Davies' bocor, Woefully Fat. A night for giants, Shandy thought as he tried to peer around the bulky sorceror. "Excuse me," he said before remembering that the bocor was supposed to be deaf, "have you seen Phil? Uh, Captain Davies? Oh hell, that's right, you can't hear, can you? So why am I ... " The intensity of the bocor's stare made him stop jabbering. Why can't these people give these looks to somebody else, Shandy thought with a shiver, or each other?
Unlike Blackbeard, who had seemed vaguely suspicious of Shandy, Woefully Fat stared down at him with evident doubt - almost with disappointment, as though Shandy were a bottle of expensive wine that someone might have left out too long in direct sunlight.
Shandy gave the sorceror a nervously polite smile, then backed away and hurried around him. Davies, he saw now, was standing on the edge of the sand slope a few yards away, and Shandy plodded over there.
Davies saw him, grinned, and then nodded down toward Blackbeard. "A powerful man, eh?"
"God knows," Shandy agreed, not smiling. "Listen, Phil," he went on quietly, "you never told me Beth Hurwood was coming along into the swamps with us."
Davies raised his eyebrows. "Didn't I? Perhaps not - probably because it's none of your concern."
Shandy thought the older man was speaking a little defensively and that alarmed him even more. "What do they mean to do with her?"
Davies sighed and shook his head. "Frankly, Jack, I'm not certain - though I do know they're anxious to keep her from all harm. Some higher magic, I gather."
"Having to do with Hurwood's dead wife."
"Oh, certainly that," Davies agreed. "As I told you on the Jenny, the hope of getting her back is all that keeps the old boy moving."
Shandy shook his head worriedly. "But if the Caribee loas are weak here, as you told me, how on earth do they expect to keep her safe out in that swamp? And who is this Maitre Carrefour?"
"Hm? Oh, that's our old friend Mate Care-For. Thatch just pronounces it right. It means master of the crossroads. Master of different possibilities, in other words - of chance. But yes, he and Samedi and the rest of the spirit boys have grown weaker for us as we've moved so far north of the places they're anchored to. No doubt there are loas here too, but they'll be Indian ones - less than no help to us. Aye, we're pretty much on our own here. Like Thatch said, we've got to stand on our own feet. But of course after we get to this magical focus, or fountain, or whatever it is, if Hurwood can come through on his promise to show us how to use it - and not get infested, as Thatch did when he found the place - why then we'll probably be able to just fly out."
Shandy frowned angrily. "Damn it - I can't see why Blackbeard even came here in the first place. I guess he knew somehow that there was some big magic deep in this jungle, but what made him go to so much trouble to get at it? Especially since he doesn't even seem to have been handy enough at magic to keep himself out of trouble."
Davies started to speak, then chuckled and shook his head. 'You've been in the western hemisphere how long now, Jack?"
"You know how long."
"So I do. A month, call it. Well, I first saw these islands when I was sixteen, the year after the press gang grabbed me in a Bristol street and informed me I was a sailor in His Majesty's Navy. No, let me talk. You can talk after. Anyway, I was a sailor on the frigate Swan, and in May of 1692 - I was eighteen by then - the Swan was in Port Royal, which was Jamaica's main seaport in those days, and we had her up on the careening ground a hundred yards west of the walls of Fort Carlyle." Davies sighed. "I guess ten years earlier Port Royal had been a real hellhole - it was Henry Morgan's home base - but when I was there it was just a nice, lively town. Well, on the second day of June, while my mates were working in the sun scraping barnacles off the Swan's hull, I was down the beach a ways reporting a shipping error at the King's warehouses, and when I had finished that I ducked in next door, at Littleton's tavern. And I'll tell you what, Jack, just as I left the place, full of beer and Littleton's excellent stew - beef and turtle, it was, as I recall - Thames Street jumped under my feet, and a sound like cannons or thunder came rolling out from the mainland. I turned back toward the tavern just in time to see the whole front wall of the place split into quarters like you'd cut a pie, and then the brick street broke up into ... strips, like ... and slid right down into the sea, with the whole town following right behind."
Shandy was listening avidly, having for the moment forgotten their original topic.
"I think I was under water for three minutes," Davies went on, "being battered by bricks and dirt, and just about being disjointed by the water itself, which couldn't make up its mind which way it wanted to fall. Finally I got to the surface and grabbed hold of somebody's roof beam, which was bobbing around like a toothpick on the choppiest, craziest sea you ever heard of. Eventually I was picked up by the Swan herself, which was one of the damn few vessels that hadn't been wrecked - maybe because she was already tipped over when the earthquake struck. She was crisscrossing the new patch of ocean which had, until about noon, been Port Royal, and we pulled lots of others out of that white sea - it was all bubbling and seething, you know? Like a huge pot of wild beer - but I later heard that two thousand died there."
"Jesus," said Shandy respectfully. Then, "Uh, but how does this relate to - "
"Oh, right, sorry - I'm getting carried away by my memories. Well sir, three blocks inland, on Broad Street, on that same terrible June second, an old magician from England - sort of like Hurwood, I guess - was trying out a heavy piece of resurrection magic I don't think he was very skilled at it, but he had with him that day a sixteen-year-old boy who'd grown up among the free blacks in the Jamaica mountains, a boy who, though white, had been deeply educated in vodun and had, just the year before, been consecrated to the most fearsome of the loos, the Lord of Cemeteries, Baron Samedi, whose secret drogue is low-smoldering fire. It was reincarnation magic they were playing with, trying to learn how to put old souls into new bodies, and that requires fresh human blood, and they'd grabbed some poor devil to provide it. The old English magician had tried this stuff before, and, I don't know, maybe he'd managed on his best day to bring a dead bug or two back to life, but today he had this sixteen-year-old boy yoked in double harness with himself, right?"
P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com