"But .. Jack, Venner's going to wait till January, to link up with Charlie Vane ... "
"Damn Venner. Did I ever say I was resigning the captaincy of the Jenny?"
"Well, no, Jack, but we all assumed - "
"Damn your assumptions. Round 'em up and get aboard.
Skank's puzzled frown became a smile. "Sure ... cap'n." He turned and hurried away, his bare feet kicking up sprays of white sand.
Shandy had just run to a beached rowboat and begun to drag it to the water when he remembered where he'd heard of Carib Indians. Crazy old Governor Sawney had mentioned them to him, the night before the Carmichael and the Jenny sailed to meet Blackbeard in Florida. What had the old man said? Something about having killed his share of them in his day.
Shandy paused to squint speculatively up the slope toward the corner of the settlement where the weird old man had set up a little tent for himself. No, he told himself, resuming his struggle with the heavy boat - Sawney's old, but he's not two hundred.
But Shandy paused again a moment later, for he'd remembered something else. The old man had said something about "when you get to that geyser." The Fountain of Youth had been a sort of geyser. And when Shandy gave that first puppet show, and Sawney interrupted it with his ravings, hadn't he said, "faces in the spray ... almas de los perditos ... "? Faces in the spray, souls of the damned ...
Had Sawney been there at one time?
If so, he might be more than two hundred years old. It wouldn't really be surprising. Though it is surprising that he's so deteriorated. I wonder, he thought as once again he resumed tugging at the boat, what he did wrong.
Again he stopped. Well, now, if there is something, he thought, some effect, that can make a babbling idiot of a sorceror who's powerful enough to get to Erebus and buy a century or two of added lifetime, it's something I damn well better know about - if I want to do something more this time than just be picked up and dropped into the ocean.
Slowly at first, then more quickly as he remembered other puzzling things about old Sawney - his flawless but archaic Spanish, his handiness with magic - Shandy climbed back up the slope to the tents.
"Seen the governor around today?" he asked one lean old ex-pirate. "Sawney, I mean - not Rogers."
Shandy was smiling and had tried to keep his tone casual, but the man had seen the end of his conversation with the young ensign, and he stepped back and raised his hands placatingly as he answered. "Sure, Jack, he's in that tent of his, up toward the inlet. Take it easy, huh?"
Oblivious to the muttering and head-shaking in his wake, Shandy sprinted across the sand, broad-jumped over the cold cooking pit and pounded away toward the inlet where, half a year ago, he'd helped refit the Carmichael; and he paused to grin and catch his breath when he saw old Sawney crouched in front of the sailcloth tent he lived in these days, alternately taking swigs from, and peering intently into, a half-full bottle of rum.
The old man was wearing baggy, bright yellow trousers and an embroidered silk jacket, and if he had on any sort of neck-cloth it was concealed under his tangled beard, which was the color of old bleached bones.
Shandy plodded down the slope and sat down near him. "I'd like to talk to you, governor."
"Ah?" Sawney squinted at him. "Not fevered again, are you? Stay away from them chickens."
"No, governor. I want to know ... about bocors, magicians. Especially ones that have been to the ... the Fountain of Youth."
Sawney had another gulp from, and peek into, his bottle. "Plenty of bocors about. I ain't one."
"But you know what I mean by the Fountain of Youth? The ... geyser?"
The old man's only response was to spin the liquor around in the bottle and sing, in a high, cracked voice,
Mas molera si Dios quisiere - Cuenta y pasa, que buen viaje faza.
Shandy did a rough translation of this in his head - More will flow if God wills - count and let it happen, and the voyage will pass more quickly - and decided it was no help. "Very well," he said, controlling his impatience, "let's start somewhere else. Do you remember the Carib Indians?"
"Aye, cannibals. We wiped 'em out. Killed 'em all in the Cordoba expedition in '17 amd '18, killed 'em or took 'em to be slaves in Cuba, which meant the same thing. They had all the magic; they kept pens of Arawak Indians, the way you'd keep cattle. To eat, sure - but you know what was more important than that? Hah? The blood, fresh blood. The Caribs kept those Arawaks alive like you'd keep gunpower dry."
"Did they know about the place in the rain forest in Florida? The Fountain in the place where it feels like the ground is ... too solid?"
"Ah, Dios ... si," Sawney whispered, darting a glance at the sunlit harbor as if something in the sea might overhear. "It wasn't so dark there, I've heard, before they came ... damned hole into hell ... "
Shandy leaned forward a little and spoke quietly. "When did you go there?"
"1521," said Sawney clearly. He took an enormous gulp of rum. "I knew by then where it had to be - I could read the signs, in spite of the padres with their holy water and prayers ... I went in, and kept the gnat-clouds of ghosts away until I found it; vinegar will drive lice away from your body, but you need the black tobacco weed to drive away ghosts ... and I shed blood there, by the Fountain ... sprouted that plant. Did it just in time, too - as soon as I got out of that swamp there was a skirmish with the Indians, and I caught an arrow, and the wound festered ... I made sure some of my blood got into the sea. Blood and sea water, and I'll live forever, over and over again, while that plant's still there ... "
Shandy suddenly remembered the dead, dried shrub he'd seen in Erebus, and he realized that this would probably be the last of Sawney's lifetimes. "How does it happen," he asked gently, "that one powerful enough to plant blood there, and use the blood and sea water magic here to buy many lives, can deteriorate? Can lose the big magics, can become ... simple?"
Sawney smiled and raised one white eyebrow. "Like me, you mean, eh? Iron."
Though embarrassed that the old man had understood him so clearly, Shandy pressed on. "Iron? What do you mean?"
"You must have smelt it. The magic smell, you know? Like a pan left on a hot fire. Wide-awake iron. And fresh blood smells that way too, and magic needs fresh blood, so obviously there's iron in it. Ever hear the story that the gods came here out of the sky as splashes of red-hot iron? No? Why, the very oldest writers claimed that the souls of stars were in the stuff, because it was the last thing a star exhaled before it started to die."
Shandy was afraid the old man had lost his lucidity again, for obviously there was no iron in blood or stars, but he decided to invest one more question in this tangent. "So how does it diminish magicians?"
"Hm?" Sawney blew across the mouth of the bottle, producing a low hooting. "Oh, it doesn't."
Shandy thumped his fist into the sand. "Damn it, governor, I need to know - "
"It's cold iron that messes 'em up - solid iron. It's finished, you see, you can't do magic around it because all the magic is finished too, before you even start. You ever make wine?"
Shandy rolled his eyes. "No, but I know about vinegar and lice, thanks. I - "
"You know vino de Jerez? Sherry, the English call it. Or port?"
"Sure, governor," said Shandy tiredly, wondering if the old man was going to ask him to fetch him a bottle.
"Well, you know how they're made? You know why some of 'em are so sweet?"
"Uh ... they're fortified. They mix brandy into the wine and it stops the fermentation, so some sugar can remain in it and not all turn to alcohol."
"Good boy. Yes, the brandy stops the fermentation. And so you still have sugar, yes, but for it to change to alcohol now is not possible. And what is this stuff, this brandy, that stops everything so?"
"Well," said Shandy, mystified, "it's distilled wine."
"Verdad. A product of fermentation makes more fermentation impossible; do you see?"
Shandy's heart was beating faster, for he thought he almost did see. "Cold iron, solid iron, works on magic the way brandy works on fermentation," he said unsteadily. "Is that what you mean?"
"Seguro! A cold iron knife is very good for getting rid of a ghost. Those stories you have heard, I'm sure. With a lot of iron around, solid iron and cold, you still have blood, like the sugar in the sherry, but it cannot be used for magic. Bocors carry no iron, and they do magic, and they are very lacking in blood. You've seen their gums? And around the houses of the most powerful ones is a fine rusty red dust of," he leaned closer and whispered, "iron." Shandy felt goosebumps starting up along his arms. "And in the Old World," he said softly, "magic stopped being an important factor of life at around the same time iron came into general use for tools and weapons."
Sawney nodded and smiled wryly through his wild white beard. "Not a ... coincidence." He blew across the neck of his bottle again: hoot. "And any magically resurrected consciousness is damaged by proximity to cold iron. (Hoot.) A little at a time. (Hoot.) By the time I learned that, it was too late for me. It turns out that ever since I came out of that damned hole in Florida I should have been staying clear of iron - not wear it, not hold it, not even eat something that was cooked in an iron pot! (Hoot.) High kings used to have to live that way in the Old World, before magic was quite all gone there. Hell. Salads and raw legumes and such you have to eat if you pursue it."
"No meat?" asked Shandy, who'd thought of something.
"Oh, aye, lots of meat, for magic power but also for plain strength, because sorcerors tend to get so pale and dizzy and weak. But of course it's got to be meat that wasn't killed or cleaned or cooked with anything iron. (Hoot.) But you know, I'm not sorry. I've had two hundred extra years of living like a normal man, doing what I please. I'd really be crazy if I'd lived the whole time like some damned bocor, worrying about every bite I ate and terrified to pound a nail into a board."
"So do you know any way, governor, that I could use cold iron to break a sorceror who's so fresh from the Fountain that he's still got the dust of Erebus in the creases of his boots?"
Sawney stared at him for a long moment and then put the bottle down. "Maybe. Who?"
Shandy decided to be honest with him. "Benjamin Hurwood. Or Ulysse Segundo, as he's apparently calling himself now. He's the - "
"Yo conozco, the one with the missing arm. The one who's grooming his daughter's body for his wife's ghost. Poor child - you notice she's fed only greens, and biscuits kept in wood casks? They want her to be conductive magically, but they don't want any strength of will in her, so no meat at all."
Shandy nodded, having realized the significance of Beth Hurwood's odd diet a few moments ago.
"Sure, I'll tell you how to break him. Stab him with a sword."
"Governor," said Shandy in an agony of impatience, "I need something more than that. He - "
"You think I'm simple? Haven't you been listening? Link your blood to the cold iron of the sword. Make the atoms of blood and iron line up the way a compass needle lines up to face north. Or vice versa. It's all relative. A working magical force will add energy to it, to its own undoing. Or else the force is undone because the lined up iron system is so energetic, you see? If you don't like the idea of a penny falling to the ground, look at it as the ground rushing up to hit the motionless penny, right? (Hoot.)"
"Great, so how do I do it?"
"Governor, how do I get the atoms to line up? How do I link blood and iron?"
Sawney drained the bottle and then put it down and began to sing,
Bendita sea el alma,
Y el Senor que nos la manda; Bendita sea el did
Y el Senor que nos lo envid.
Again Shandy translated mentally: Blessed be the soul, and the Lord that keeps it in order; blessed be the day, and the Lord that drives away.
He tried for at least another minute to get a coherent answer to his question, but the rum had extinguished the brief spark of alertness in the old man's eyes, and eventually he gave up and got to his feet.
"So long, governor."
"Keep well, lad. No chickens."
"Right." Shandy started away, then paused and turned back. "Say ... what's your name, governor?"
Shandy had heard several versions of the name the governor claimed, but it had always been something like Sawney or Ponsea or Gawnsey - he hadn't heard Juan before. "What's your full name, governor?"
The old man cackled and grubbed in the sand for a bit, then looked up at Shandy and said softly but distinctly, "Juan Ponce de Leon."
Shandy simply stood there for several seconds, feeling chilled in spite of the tropical sun that was raising wavering heat mirages over the white sand. At last he nodded, turned, and plodded away, hearing the hooting start up again behind him.
Only after he had crested the rise, and was winding his way through the tangle of tents and huts, did it occur to him that the derelict he'd left hooting into an empty rum bottle really was, or had been, at least, governor of this island - as well as of every other island between here and Florida.
He was striding along between the tents, mentally calculating how much of Davies' money he still had after three months of spending it lavishly on rum, and wondering how long a voyage he could afford - of course it wouldn't have to be very long, Christmas was less than two weeks away, and Hurwood had said that he'd consummate the eviction of Beth from her body "come Yule" - when a figure stepped in front of him. He looked up, and recognized Ann Bonny. He remembered that she had started up a romance with another pardoned pirate, Calico Jack Rackam, very shortly after Shandy had sailed for Haiti, and that the two of them had tried, unsuccessfully, to get Ann a divorce-by-sale.