"Right ... ?" echoed Shandy.
"Well, it turns out - neither of 'em knew it at the time, though probably a few of the old bocors knew it, and certainly the Carib Indians before that - it turns out that big-yield resurrection magic has to be done at sea. Something to do with a relationship between blood and sea water, I understand. Well, this white boy turned out to be the most powerful natural magician of his color that anybody'd ever heard of ... and here he was doing resurrection magic in Port Royal - on the land."
Shandy waited a moment. "Uh ... yeah? So?"
"So the town of Port Royal jumped into the sea, Jack."
"Oh." Shandy looked out at the black ocean. "This ... this sixteen-year-old boy - "
" - Was named Ed Thatch. He's been trying to perfect the resurrection trick ever since. And that's what brought him to this coast two years ago. You asked, remember?"
"Yes." Shandy wasn't feeling at all reassured. "Very well, so what is this focus or fountain we're going into the jungle to find?"
Davies blinked at him. "Why, I thought you knew that, Jack. It's a hole in the wall between life and death, and anyone standing around is liable to catch the spray from one side or the other. Don't you know any history? It's what Juan Ponce de Leon was looking for - he called it the Fountain of Youth."
When it was fully dark, and Blackbeard, Davies and the rest of them had drunk off the last fortifying cups of rum and begun plodding north along the beach toward the river and the waiting boats, Benjamin Hurwood forced himself to stand up and follow them.
The daydreams that had become increasingly vivid and insistent during the last couple of years had now reached the point where they could almost be called hallucinations, but Hurwood kept his mouth clamped shut and didn't allow his eyes to follow any of the figures and objects he knew were imaginary.
It's 1718, he told himself firmly, and I'm on the shore of the I west coast of Florida, with the pirate Edward Thatch and ... my daughter ... what in hell is her name? Not Margaret ... Elizabeth! That's it. Despite what I'm seeing half the time, I'm not at the church in Chelsea ... I am not forty-three years old, the year isn't 1694 ... and that is not my bride that I see there, my dear Margaret, my life, or at least my sanity ... that's our daughter, the ... the vehicle ...
Hurwood squinted against the bright sunlight streaming in through the vestibule window as he handed the flask back to his groomsman. "Thanks, Peter," he grinned. He peeked through the crack between the two doors that were the church's side entrance, but people were still moving uncertainly down the aisles and sidling into the pews, and the minister hadn't appeared yet ... though there was one frightened-looking altar boy at one of the far kneelers on the altar. "A little time yet," he told his best man. "I'll just take one more peek into the glass."
Peter smiled at the groom's nervousness as Hurwood crossed once again to the mirror he'd propped up on a nearby shelf. "The sin of vanity," Peter muttered.
"Today I believed a touch of vanity can be excused," Hurwood replied, patting his long brown locks into place. Hurwood was a studious, retiring man, but he did take pride in his hair, and, despite the fashion, never wore a wig - he always appeared in society "in his own hair," and despite his years there was no gray in it at all.
"I don't see Margaret yet," Peter remarked, pulling one of the doors open a bit and squinting toward the back of the church. "No doubt she's reconsidered."
Even the suggestion made Hurwood's stomach go cold. "God's blood, Peter, don't even speak such a thought! I'd ... go mad. I - "
"A joke, merely!" Peter assured him, a hint of concern detectable behind his jovial tone. "Do relax, Ben, of course she'll come. Here, have another pull at the brandy - you're the palest bridegroom I've ever seen."
Hurwood took the proffered flask and drank deeply. "Thanks - but no more. It wouldn't do to be drunk on the altar."
"Shall I put her in the boat?" asked Peter, somehow pulling a curtain across the window so that they stood in darkness except for the light of a lamp Hurwood hadn't noticed. The air was suddenly fresher, but smelled of the sea, and marshes; fleetingly it occurred to Hurwood that they should air out these rooms more frequently - a century of incense smoke and moth-riddled draperies and dry prayer-book bindings produced some unlikely smells.
"I think you're the one that's had too much to drink," snapped Hurwood testily. He could no longer see his hair in the mirror. Pull back that damned curtain."
"This is no time for visions, Mr. Hurwood," said someone, presumably Peter. "It's time to get into the boats."
Hurwood saw to his alarm that the lamp had somehow started a fire in the side vestibule - no, three fires! "Peter!" he cried. "The church is burning!" He turned to his best man, but instead of the lean, elegant figure of Peter he saw a monstrously fat young man in grotesque clothes. "Who are you?" Hurwood asked, very frightened, for he was now certain that something had happened to his fiancee. "Is Margaret all right?"
"She's dead, Mr. Hurwood," said the fat youth impatiently. "That's why you're here, remember?"
"Dead!" Then he must be in church for a funeral, not a wedding - but why was the casket so small, a square wooden box no more than a foot and a half long on any side? And why did it smell so earthy and bad?
Then he snapped out of it, and the memories of this last quarter of a century fell onto him like a landslide, leaving him weak and white-haired.
"Yes, dead," Leo Friend repeated. "And you're going to behave sanely for the next couple of hours even if I've got to control you myself," the fat man added desperately.
"Calm yourself, Leo," said Hurwood, managing to force a bit of detached amusement into his voice. "Yes, by all means get ... Elizabeth into the boat."
Hurwood strode confidently down the slope toward the river, where the boats were drawn up and the wooden chest from Blackbeard's boat was being pried open - though he lurched a little, because every few seconds he seemed to be walking at a ceremoniously slow pace down the church's center aisle, through alternating patches of shadow and slanting colored light as he passed the high stained-glass windows one by one.
The springy, spidery-looking mangrove roots had been cutlassed away from a hundred-foot section of the river shore, and men were standing knee-deep in the black, torchlight-glittering water and catching oilskin-wrapped bundles tossed from shore and laying them in the boats. There was a flaming torch mounted in the bow of each of the three boats, and Hurwood saw that Davies and the cook were already in one of the boats, Davies holding it steady by gripping a mangrove stump that projected a foot out of the water.
" ... to have and to hold, from this day forward, until death do you part?" the minister asked, smiling kindly at the earnest couple kneeling before him. Out of the corner of his eye Hurwood saw the altar boy he'd noticed earlier, still at the far kneeler and still looking scared ... no, more lost than scared. "I do," said Hurwood.
"How's that again, boss?" asked the pirate who had just taken the last bundle out of the wooden chest and tossed the oilskin-wrapped packet to the men in the water.
"He says he does," snickered the man next to him.
The first pirate winked at his companion. "I thought he looked like the type that did, but I wasn't sure."
Hurwood blinked around, then smiled at them. "Most amusing. I'll be sure and bring a couple of mementos back from the Fountain for you gentlemen."
The grins fell off the men's faces. "Meant no disrespect, sir," one of them said sulkily.
"Still, I won't forget." Looking over his shoulder Hurwood saw Leo Friend making his ponderous way down the slope. "We'll go in that one," Hurwood told the cowed pirates, pointing at one of the boats. "Please bring it close, and hold it very steady, for my companion is massive."
The men silently did as they were told, and out of fear of Hurwood they dragged the boat in so close to shore that he was able to step into it without getting his boots wet.
A few people threw rice in spite of Hurwood's stated preference, but he smiled as he stepped up into the carriage beside his bride, for he was far too elated to acknowledge petty annoyances.
He was smiling broadly. "Thank you!" he called to the gaping pirates and Leo Friend. "We'll have you all over for dinner when we return from the continent!"
Shandy leaned out to the side, away from the boat's torch, to see Hurwood better. The old man was still grinning and waving to the shore, to the dumbfoundment of the pirates and Friend - and Beth, who was being led to her father's boat by the apparently sleep-walking Stede Bonnett. I guess she was right after all, Shandy thought, about her father being crazy.
For the last half hour the moon had been alternately hidden and exposed by clouds rushing across its face, and now a warm rain began to fall. The boats were loaded, and the passengers were all more or less settled on the thwarts - Blackbeard and his dubious rower in the first boat, Hurwood, Friend, Elizabeth and Bonnett in tne next, and Shandy and Davies in the third. Shandy was surprised to see that Woefully Fat wasn't coming along; did the giant bocor know something, perhaps, that the people in the boats didn't?
As the boats pushed away from the shore and the oarlocks began to knock and clank, and steam rose from the torch flames, all the voyagers except Beth Hurwood began humming a low-key counterpoint melody calculated to attract whatever feeble attentions of Baron Samedi and Maitre Carrefour might extend to this forsaken northern shore - but after a few minutes the humming dropped off, as if all of them found it incongruous here.
The stream was slow, and it was easy to row up it, and soon even the glow of the three fires on the shore was lost behind them in the black maze. Shandy crouched in the bow of his boat and, as the knobby towers of cypresses loomed out of the darkness, some of them looking like hooded and malformed men, some looking like stones, none of them looking like any kind of tree, he softly called directions back to Davies, who had insisted on rowing in spite of his newly healed shoulder.
Things shifted wetly on the boggy ground as they passed, and there were inexplicable splashings and bubblings, but Shandy saw nothing that looked animate except the pearly oil-smears that slicked the water and seemed to form grasping hands, and warped faces mouthing unreadable words, as the boat keels razored them in half and pushed them away to either side.
Blackbeard's boat was leading the way, and in the nearly silent cathedral of the swamp Shandy thought he could hear intermittent hissing from the pirate-king's strange boatman. The only other sounds from the boats were Friend's muttered directions to Bonnett, who was laboring at their boat's oars, and an occasional soft, fatuous chuckle from Hurwood. Beth huddled in hopeless silence beside her father.
When Shandy consciously noticed the quiet susurration after about an hour of slow progress through the jungly labyrinth, he realized that he'd been aware of the sound for quite a while, but until now hadn't distinguished it from the muted splash and drip of the oars. It sounded to him like hundreds of people, not far ahead, whispering in alarm. At about the same time, he noticed the new smell, which was eclipsing the rich odors of cypress oil and decaying vegetation and black water, and as soon as he became aware of it, he realized he'd been expecting it. He exhaled sharply through his nose, then cleared his throat and spat. "Aye," muttered Davies, evidently liking it no better, "smells like a cannon that hasn't been let to cool between firings."
Hurwood too seemed to notice it, for he stopped his chortling and snapped, "The herb - put it in the torches now."
Shandy untied the oilskin bundle issued to his boat and, a handful at a time, gently tossed the damp, stringy stuff - the stuff Blackbeard had terrorized Charles Town to obtain - onto the glowing surface of the torch-head. Smoke trickled up fitfully at first, then suddenly in thick billows, and Shandy yanked his head back, huffing and spitting again, this time to get the pungent, almost ammoniac reek out of his head. Why bother, he thought, to qualify it as a ghost repellent? This stuff would chase wooden figureheads off the bows of ships.
He was tense but not actively scared - though at the same time he was wryly aware that this was like his relative coolness during the capture of the Carmichael: based on ignorance of the danger. But Blackbeard was here once, he told himself, and came out not too bad off ... and of course Blackbeard just blundered in, carelessly, drawn by the Fountain's magical reverberations or whatever it was, like a moth to a candle, while we've got a guide that knows how to handle all this stuff ...
His confidence waned a little, though, when he remembered that Hurwood had evidently lost his mind. And why had Blackbeard forbidden them to bring pistols?
The river narrowed, or, more accurately, broke up into dozens of narrow channels, and soon rowing became impossible, and the oars had to be used as barge poles. Blackbeard's boat took the lead, Hurwood's was next, and the boat Shandy was in was last. As the wet vines and wild orchids pressed in ever closer in the orange torchlight, Shandy began to wonder if there wasn't something out there in the marsh, not too far away, pacing them silently in the darkness - something big, though it made no sound as it moved through the moonlight-dappled tangles of bay trees and swamp Naples. He tried to force his imagination to relax, though the sound like whispering - louder now - didn't make it easy.
He was kneeling on one of the thwarts, alternately heaving back with his oar against the muddy river bottom and squinting ahead through the noxious smoke to see which channels the other two boats took. Sparks from the torch at the bow had been falling back onto him ever since the boat had cast off, and he'd been absently brushing them away, but now he felt two spots of warmth at his waist, and, glancing down, didn't see any sparks.