"Not a coincidence," pronounced Blackbeard flatly.
"The fat boy?" protested Davies. "But why?"
"Your quartermaster knows why," Blackbeard said, nodding past Davies at Shandy. "Don't you, Shandy?"
Shandy walked up to them, feeling hollow and colder than the tog. "Yes, sir," he said hoarsely. "I've seen the way he'd look at her sometimes."
"But why take my ship?" snarled Davies, whirling angrily to face the still-veiled sea.
"He had to take Beth away," said Shandy. "Her father had plans for her that were ... incompatible ... with the plans Friend had for her." He spoke quietly, but he was as tense as a flexed length of steel.
Blackboard, also staring out to sea, shook his massive head. "I knew he was more than just Hurwood's apprentice - that there was something he was after, all on his own. At the Fountain he finally got what he needed. I should have killed him last night, after we all got back. I think I could have." The giant pirate reached out a hand and squeezed it into a fist, and then drove it into the palm of his other hand.
The sound of the slap was lost in the sudden, jarring crack of a close thunderclap, and the flash of the sky-spanning lightning bolt sent Shandy and Davies reeling back, dazzled.
"I think I could have," Blackbeard repeated thoughtfully.
As the echoes tumbled away along the shoreline and Blackbeard lowered his hands, Shandy half wished he'd thought of dropping some of his own blood on the mud by the Fountain. The thought reminded him of the way Davies had vanquished - perhaps killed - the loa-like thing in the jungle. Surreptitiously he lifted his foot and dragged a fingernail down the groove between the sole and the side, and he rolled the resulting bit of muck into a ball and tucked it into his pocket. He didn't know whether it contained any mud actually from the marge of the Fountain, or what sort of enemy he might want to use it against even if it did, but it was clear that anyone with only guns and swords at his disposal was ludicrously ill-equipped for the kind of combat they were engaged in now.
"I've got to get my ship back," said Davies, and Shandy realized that when Davies had lost the ship he'd lost his rank, too - without the Vociferous Carmichael he was just the skipper of a notably battered but otherwise unimpressive little sloop. Davies looked desperately at Blackbeard. "Will you come along and help? He's more now than he was, and he knew some good tricks even before."
"No," said Blackbeard, his dark face impassive. "By now Woodes Rogers may have arrived in New Providence with the pardon calculated to rob me of my nation." The breeze was from the sea, and it blew back the pirate-king's lion-mane of black hair and beard, and Shandy noticed streaks of gray at the temples and chin. "I meant the Carmichael - with you as her captain - to be the flagship of my fleet ... and I hope you do get her back. But it seems the age of free-for-all piracy is ending ... just as the merry buccaneer days are passed ... this is the age of empire." He grinned sidelong at Davies. "Would the Brethren follow me, or take the pardon, given the choice?"
Davies grinned wearily back, and waited for a wave to crash, come swirling and churning almost to their boots, and then slide back, before answering. "They'll take the pardon. To sail with Blackbeard is to leave a pledge with the hangman."
Blackbeard nodded. "But ... ?"
Davies shrugged. "The problem will still be there - unless King George has the sense to get into another war. The Caribbean is full of men who know no other trade than sailing a fighting ship. Since the peace they're all out of work. Sure, they'll take the pardon - gratefully! - to write off their past crimes ... but a month or two later every one of 'em will be back on the account."
Blackbeard nodded, and though Shandy and Davies stepped back, he didn't even look down as the next wave boiled up past where he stood and draped a length of kelp across his ankle. Finally he spoke, slowly. "Would they follow a new captain, who had ships and money?"
"Of course - and if this captain truly had no criminal record, he could have his pick of every sailor in the New World, because they wouldn't be violating their pardons by sailing with him. But who have you got in mind? Even Shandy here has got a fair reputation."
"Do you know, Phil, why Juan Ponce de Leon called that place the Fountain of Youth?"
"No." Davies laughed shortly. "If anything, I feel a lot older since being there."
Blackbeard turned to Shandy. "Any guesses, Jack?"
Shandy recalled Hurwood's antics with the head of his dead wife. "Because the place can be used to bring dead people back to life."
Blackbeard nodded. "I was sure you'd figured that out. Yes, old Hurwood plans to raise his wife's ghost from her dried head and plant it in the body of his daughter. Hard luck on the daughter, left with no body." The giant pirate laughed softly. "Hurwood came out to the New World last year - he'd heard that magic was as common as salt out here."
More shouting was going on around the fires behind them, but Blackbeard was caught up in remembering. "A pistol ball smashed his arm all to hell," he said. "We had to chop it right off and tar the stump. Never thought a man his age would survive it. But then only the next day you'd swear he'd forgot about it - all he did was watch me. The ghosts were troubling me pretty bad then, and I was having a rum-and-gunpowder two or three times a day. And even though magic has been dried up in the Old World for thousands of years, he'd tracked down its old footprints and found its bones ... and studied 'em. He knew what my trouble was and had a pretty good idea of how I'd got infested by all those ghosts. He offered to cure me of 'em - exorcise 'em - if I'd show him exactly where it was that I'd picked 'em up. I said fine, let's go, but he said not so fast. We need a ghost repellent, he said, this special medicine weed the Indians grow in Carolina - I was to sail north and get some - and he had to go back to England to get a couple of things: his daughter and his wife's head, it seems. The whole reason he'd begun trying to track down living magic was to get the wife back. But before he went back to England he came to New Providence with us, and lived a few weeks with the bocors. One night he sailed off west with one of 'em, and came back next morning all worn out and crazy-looking - but excited. I knew he'd somehow managed to contact the wife. And then he left, promising as the last piece of the deal to bring back a fine ship for me."
Shandy remembered old Chaworth, and the realization that he was now one of the breed that had ruined and killed the kind old man brought a bitterness to his mouth.
"And Hurwood was right, of course," Blackbeard went on quietly. "We do use magic out here, and those of us who aren't above listening to the black bocors - especially those of us who live on the sea - know some thefty tricks. I know more, maybe, than anyone ... and since our trip upriver, I've now got the power to do every one of 'em splendid." He had been facing the sea, but now he turned back to Shandy and Davies. "For years I've heard about this Fountain, and I tracked it down because of a magic I'd heard of in connection with it. A man with the right kind of power can be immortal by means of it, if he takes care to live on the sea. Blood, fresh blood, and sea water, and you don't need the head, nor a body for the soul to go into; the sorceror's blood will grow a new one in the sea, in a kind of egg, within hours of dripping into the water ... "
Davies was frowning thoughtfully. "I see. So you plan to - "
"To sail north, Phil, to some place civilized, where things happen documentably and get recorded official. And I think maybe the famous Blackbeard will be trapped and killed in some sea fight, in such a way that some of his blood will fall into the ocean ... and then I wouldn't be surprised if some stranger were to appear, who'll happen to know where I've hid all my lucre, and he won't have any reputation or previous history or fame to foul him up. I think he'll get a ship in some quiet way - hah! I'll bet Stede Bonnett will help out with that - and then make his way south to New Providence Island. I think he'll want to speak to you, Phil - and I think it'd be a good thing if you'd got the Carmichael back."
Davies nodded. "Do you ... want us to accept this pardon Rogers is bringing?"
"I don't see why not," Blackbeard said.
"Hear that, Jack?" Davies asked Shandy. "Back in the shop window again."
Shandy opened his mouth to answer, then closed it and just shook his head.
"He's too great a sinner, Phil," Blackbeard said, amusement rumbling in his voice.
Benjamin Hurwood covered the last ten yards in a sort of anxious, bounding prance, making the square wooden box tied to his belt jiggle and whirl wildly. "When do we leave"?" he screamed. "Don't you realize how essential it is that we hurry? He may kill her, he's certainly got the power now to overcome the protections she has."
Blackbeard ignored Hurwood. "I'm going north," he said, and plodded away back toward the fires.
Davies eyed the pale, trembling Hurwood speculatively. "Can you find 'em?"
"Of course I can find them - her, anyway." He slapped the wooden box irreverently. "This thing's a damn lodestone for her now, better than the pointer that led you to the Carmichael a month ago."
"We'll leave instantly," said Davies. "As soon as we get the Jenny manned. We - " He paused. "The Carmichael's crew," he said. "What's to become of them, the lads we can't carry on the Jenny?"
"Who cares?" yelled Hurwood. "Let them split up - half with Thatch, half with Bonnett. Damn my soul, what I'm going to do to that fat young worm when I find him! Prometheus never suffered as much as Leo Friend will, I promise you - "
"No," said Davies, still thoughtfully, "none of my lads sail north with Thatch ... I'll load the Jenny gunwale-deep with men before I permit that ... "
Hurwood had been dancing with impatience, and now the raging old man screwed his eyes shut and clenched his fist, and slowly rose up from the sand until he hovered unsupported with his boots dangling fully a yard above the ground. He opened his eyes a squint, hissed angrily and shut his eyes harder - and then was flung like a loose-jointed doll at the sea, and struck with an enormous splash out beyond where the breakers began to swell and roll in.
A number of pirates were on the beach, and several of them had paused in their various labors to gape at this performance, and now were staring wonderingly out at the falling splash spray.
"Get him," Davies rasped at the nearest cluster of them, and the men leaped to the boat, dragged it down to the water and got busy with the oars. To Shandy, Davies muttered, "You want to find the girl, right?"
"And I want to find my ship. So let's get Hurwood aboard the Jenny before he perfects his flying and flaps away to find them without us."
The sailors had carried and shoved their wide-beamed boat out into the surf. "Don't bring him back," Davies shouted to them. "Take him on to the Jenny!"
"Aye aye, Phil," yelled back one of the laboring rowers.
Davies seized Shandy's shoulder. "Back to the camp, Jack," he said. "Send as many of the Carmichael's lads to Bonnett's crew as the Revenge can hold - the rest bring down here, and get 'em aboard the Jenny. But none of our mates sail on the Queen Anne's Revenge, understand?"
"Sure do, Phil," Shandy said. "I'll have 'em down here getting into the boats in three minutes."
Shandy had no sooner run back uphill to the crowd around the smoking charcoal piles than Woefully Fat grabbed him by the upper arm. The bocor's brown eyes glared at him out of the broad black face. "You damn slow, boy," the man said. "I thought you'd fix things upriver. Too late now for it to be any kind of easy - now you got to kill him an' burn him ashore."
"Kill who?" blurted Shandy, forgetting the man was deaf.
"You ain't sailin' on the Queen Anne's Revenge," said Woefully Fat.
Belatedly remembering the bocor's deafness, Shandy shook his head and put on an earnestly agreeing expression. He was standing on tiptoe and hoping the giant bocor wouldn't lift him any higher. "No sir!" he yelled.
"Di'n't wait five years for you so you could be a puppet o' his, and die just to provide more blood an' make his death scene look more convincin'."
"I ain't going!" said Shandy loudly, exaggerating the movement of his lips. Then he added, "What do you mean, 'five years'?"
Woefully Fat looked around - no one was paying particular attention to them, and he lowered his voice to a whisper that was somehow still a rumble. "When the white men's war ended, an' anybody could see that Thatch had learned too much."
Shandy couldn't tell if this was an answer or something Woefully Fat had been going to say anyway.
"He got away with a lot by calling himself a privateer," the bocor went on. "The English let him alone if they think he only be takin' Spanish ships. But he wa'n't interested in any distinctions between Spanish or English or Dutch, just in human lives and blood. He even kilt that old English magician he been studyin' with, an' then tried to bring him back." Woefully Fat laughed. "I help a little, that time, make a turtle eat the blood in the water. Wouldn't have worked for very long anyway, neither of 'em havin' shed blood in Erebus first, but you should have seen that turtle tryin' to write English words on the deck with its claws." He gave Shandy a sharp look. "You di'n't shed no blood there, did you?"