A couple of the people nearby laughed and told Shandy that such things were to be expected, that girls always chose men with good looks over ones that had nothing but honest hearts.

Shandy laughed too, if a little forcedly, and said he thought it was more Friend's unfailing cheer and life-of-the-party attitude that did it. He turned down an offer of more stew but accepted another beheaded bottle of Latour, and he plodded away from the fires south along the beach toward the Carmichael.

The ship's bow was still up in the narrow inlet, supported by a stout wooden framework and a last couple of cables moored to trees, and the stern sat very low out in the harbor; but in spite of her present awkward posture she seemed much more like his ship now than she had during the month he'd been a passenger on her. He knew her intimately now - he'd been up scrambling like an ape in the high spars when they rerigged her, he'd swung an axe when they chopped down the forecastle structure and most of the railing, he'd sweated with saw and drill when they opened new ports for more cannon, and, for more hours than he could yet bear to remember, he'd sat in a sling halfway between the gunwale above and the sand or water below, and, foot by foot, chiseled charred seaweed and barnacles off her hull and dug out the teredo worms, and hammered into the wood little brass drogues, carved and chanted over by Davies' bocor to be powerful antiworm charms.

And, he thought now as he approached her, tomorrow we tow her the rest of the way into the water, tighten the shrouds, and sail away. And my life as a pirate will commence.

He noticed that there was someone sitting in the sand under the high arch of the bow, and after a moment of peering he saw by the moonlight that it was the mad old man the pirates always addressed as "governor" - possibly because of uncertainty about his name, which Shandy had variously heard rendered as Sawney, Gonsey and 'Pon-sea. The scene before Shandy - the old man sitting under ship's bow - reminded him of something that eluded him ... but, oddly, he knew it was some picture or story that, by the comparison, lent a sad dignity to old Sawney. It startled Shandy to see the old lunatic, even by analogy, as something more than a sorcerously clever but half-witted clown.

Then he remembered what the scene reminded him of: the age-crippled Jason, sitting under the hull of the beached and abandoned Argo.

"Who's that?" the old man quavered when he heard Shandy's boots in the sand.

"Jack Shandy, governor. Just wanted one last look at her in this position."

"Did you bring me a drink?"

"Uh, yes." Shandy paused, took several deep gulps, and then handed the half-full bottle to the old man.


"You sail tomorrow?"

"Right," said Shandy, surprised that the old man knew it and had remembered it.

"To join the hunsi hanzo and his puppy."

Shandy squinted at the old man and wondered if he really was in one of his lucid periods after all. "His puppy?"

"Bonnett. I seen you playing at the poopets, you know about makin' the little fellows jump when you got the strings on 'em."

"Oh. Yeah." Shandy had heard of the new pirate Stede Bonnett, who'd recently, inexplicably, left behind a prosperous Barbados plantation in order to "go on the account," but he hadn't heard that the man had any connection with Blackbeard; of course old Sawney was hardly a reliable source.

"North, ye be goin', I hear," the governor went on. He paused to gulp some wine. "To Florida." He pronounced it with a strong Spanish accent. "Beautiful name, but fever country. I know the area. I've killed quite a few Carib Indians around there, and took a nasty arrow wound from 'em once. You want to watch out for 'em - they're the meanest. Cannibals. They keep pens of women and children from other tribes ... the way we'd keep pens of cattle."

Shandy didn't believe this, but to be polite he whistled and shook his head. "Damnation," he said. "I'll steer clear of 'em."

"See you do ... until you get to that damned geyser, anyway. After that, if you know how to handle it, you got nothing to worry about."

"That's what I want," agreed Shandy. "Nothing to worry about."

The governor chuckled and replied in Spanish, but though Shandy was learning the crude Spanish of the mongrel pirates, the governor's dialect foiled him. It seemed at once too archaic and too pure. The old man finished, though, with an obscene suggestion, in all-too-fluent English, of what capabilities Blackbeard hoped to acquire by this trip.

Shandy laughed weakly, bade the old man farewell, and walked back the way he had come. After a couple of dozen paces he crested a sand dune, and he stopped and looked back at the ship. She was slightly heeled toward him, and he could see most of the quarterdeck and an end-on edge of the poop deck out over the water to his left. He tried to determine where Chaworth had died, and where he had stabbed Davies, and where he and Beth had stood when they'd tossed maggotty biscuits to that sea gull. He noticed that the section of rail they'd leaned on was cut away now, and it bothered him a little that he couldn't remember whether or not that was a section he'd cut down himself.

He tried to imagine what other sorts of events might eventually take place on that deck, and after a moment he was startled to realize that he instinctively imagined himself as being present during them. But that's wrong, he told himself with a nervous smile. Beth and I will be jumping ship at the first opportunity. This ship will go on without me, in spite of all the sweat of mine - and blood, sometimes, when a chisel would slip - that's soaked into her wood. I've got an uncle who needs hanging.

He turned back toward the fires and started walking again, and it occurred to him that he wasn't far from the spot where he'd seen the man with the torn pockets and the bound-up jaw; and the memory of it made him walk a little faster, not because the man had looked threatening, but because of what Davies had said when Shandy told him about it.

Davies had spat and shaken his head in annoyance. "That'll be Duplessis, from Thatch's last stop here. Thatch never takes time to do the little things right anymore. Duplessis was a bocor, and he bought a lot of loas, and that creates a debt even death can't free you from. I guess Thatch buried him without all the proper restraints."

Shandy had stared. "Buried him?"

Davies grinned at him, and in a contemptuously faked upper-class accent quoted the punch line of the old joke: "Had to - dead, you know." Resuming his normal tone, he went on, "At least Thatch didn't bury him with his boots on. Ghosts like to wander onto the boats, and if they're shod, you can't sleep for them clumping about all night."

When Shandy got back to the fires, most of the pirates had either wandered off to the huts or had settled down with bottles for serious, laconic, all-night drinking; Shandy decided that he had drunk enough to be able to sleep, and he started for the planks-and-sailcloth lean-to he'd built for himself up under the trees. He walked up the sand slope, but halted when, from ahead, a voice as deep as an organ at the bottom of a mine shaft called quietly to him to stop. Shandy peered, trying to see by the shifting, dappled moonlight under the palm trees, and finally made out a giant black figure seated cross-legged in an outlined and carefully cleared circle in the sand.

"Don't enter the circle," the figure said to him without looking around, and Shandy belatedly recognized Woefully Fat, Davies' bocor. The man was supposed to be deaf, so Shandy just nodded - realizing as he did that it was of even less use than speaking, since the man was looking away - and shuffled back a step or two.

Woefully Fat didn't look around. He was digging at the air with the wooden knife he always carried, and he seemed to be having trouble moving it through the air. "Raasclaat," he swore softly, then rumbled, "Ah cain't quite get the faastie bastards to behave. Been reasonin' with 'em all naht." The bocor had been raised in Virginia, and, being deaf, had never lost that accent.

"Uh ... ," Shandy said uncertainly, looking around and trying to remember the nearest alternate route up the slope, for Woefully Fat had this way blocked, "uh, why don't I ... "

The bocor's arm came up suddenly, pointing the wooden knife at the sky.

Shandy automatically looked up, and between the shaggy blacknesses of two palms he saw a brief shooting star, like a line of luminous chalk on a distant slate. Thirty seconds later the wind stopped ... then resumed, a little more strongly. 'Woefully Fat lowered his arm and stood up - lithely, in spite of his awesome bulk. He turned and gave Shandy an unreassuring smile and stood aside. "Go ahead," he said. " 'Tain't nothin' now but a line drawed in the sand."

" ... Thanks." Shandy edged past the giant, skipped quickly over the circle and walked on.

He heard Woefully Fat striding away toward the beach; the huge bocor chuckled and, in his low but eerily carrying voice, said, "C'etait impossible de savoir ci c'etait le froid ou la faim." Then, chuckling again, he receded out of Shandy's hearing.

Shandy paused, and for several minutes stared after the man restlessly, as if he might follow; then he glanced uneasily up at the stars, and picked his way silently to his lean-to, glad that he'd set it up under a particularly thick ceiling of greenery.

Chapter Six

Davies might not have slept - when dawn was still just a dim blue glow behind the palms on Hog Island he flung someone's old cape over the dusty white coals of one of last night's fires, and as the garment ballooned up, began smoldering and then erupted in flame, he strode around shouting, pulling the hair and beards of sleepers and kicking support poles out from under makeshift tents. The groaning pirates struggled up and shambled to the fire, many of them dragging pieces of their soon to be abandoned tents and shacks to throw onto the revived flames, and Davies gave them time to heat a pot of rum-and-ale, and swallow enough of the pungent restorative to ready them for work, before he got them trooping down the beach to where the Carmichael sat.

For an hour they strung up and hauled on - then took down and rearranged - various complicated webs of blocks and line, and swore terrible oaths, and fell into the water, and wept with rage ... but when the sun was up the ship was in the water, and Davies was striding back and forth on the poop deck, calling directions to the sail-handlers and the men on the sloop Jenny, which was towing the ship. For another hour the Carmichael slowly zigzagged along the deepest channels of the harbor, working under minimum sail and frequently stopping altogether while Davies and Hodge, who was captaining the Jenny, shouted at each other, and the early rising members of the crews of other vessels stood on the beach and called rude suggestions across the brightening water; but eventually the ship was in the north mouth of the harbor, and then past it and into the deeper water that edged the Northeast Providence Channel, and Davies ordered all canvas spread, even the studdingsails that flanked the mainsails, and all three of the triangular jibs along the bowsprit. The tow cable was released, and both vessels picked up speed; their sails bright in the morning sun, they slanted away to the northwest.

Davies had claimed that the principles of sailing were better learned on a boat than on a ship, so Shandy was helping to crew the Jenny. After having become so familiar with the Carmichael, the Jenny with her single mast and fore-and-aft sails seemed like little more than a turtle boat to him; but she did carry fourteen small cannon and twelve swivel guns, and when they had crowded on sail after releasing the tow cable, he could feel through the soles of his bare feet that she was potentially a much faster vessel.

The Carmichael took the lead, though, and Shandy, who'd been told to stand idle and stay out of everybody's way until they were comfortably out at sea, crouched on the hardly table-sized forecastle deck and watched the ship surge along majestically a couple of hundred yards ahead, and he wondered what spot Beth had found to stay out of the way in, now that the ship had been so ruthlessly streamlined.

"Here y'go, Jack," said Skank, handing Shandy a wooden cup full of rum before lurching back to help trim the jib sheet. "Any more and I pitch over the side."

"Thanks," said Shandy, accepting it cautiously and wondering if these people were ever completely sober. He looked back over the port quarter and watched the jagged green and purple pile that was New Providence Island recede away behind them on the crystal! blue face of the sea. It occurred to him that in some ways he would miss the place.

Skank ambled back up to the forecastle and leaned on one of the swivel gun posts. "Yeah," he said, as if agreeing to something Shandy had said, "we may never go back there again. Next year it'll be harder to sell our take, 'cause there won't be the usual agreed-on place for the rich island merchants to send their buyers to."

Shandy sipped the rum. "Rich merchants deal with pirates?"

"Well, sure - how do you think they got rich? And stay it? Of course they generally didn't come over in person - they'd send their foremen and trusted fellows like that to arrange the buys. Sometimes for big money deals we'd even deliver the stuff; lots of moonless nights I've hauled a heavy-loaded boat with muffled oars into some nowhere cove in Jamaica or Haiti or Barbados. The whole thing makes sense for everybody, of course; we can sell goods to 'em tremendous cheap, since we didn't pay for 'em atall."

Not for quite everybody, Shandy thought. "These merchants you sell to - do they know the stuff's stolen?"

"Oh, sure, Jack, how could they not? In fact, some can even afford to bribe the Royal Navy shore patrols to be lookin' somewhere else when we ferry it in. And Thatch himself set up most of our contacts with the really rich ones: Bonnet on Barbados - of course he's turned pirate himself now, I can't quite understand that - and Lapin and Shander-knack on Haiti, and - "

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