"It better not go against us."
Shandy smiled, and somehow it made him look even more tired. "Right." He raised the hammer and brought it down solidly on the bittacle glass, and then he dropped the hammer and fumbled around among the glass shards; a moment later he lifted the compass needle out with bloody fingers. "Get the lads ready with hooks and lines. With luck we'll be able to start boarding before he knows we're trying to be aggressors."
Skank moaned faintly, but nodded and hurried forward.
Shandy carefully inserted the north-pole end of the compass needle into the crack he'd cut in the saber tang, then he crouched and picked up the hammer again and gave the needle a tap to keep it in place.
Shandy carefully slid the doctored saber through his belt, and for a minute after that he just breathed deeply with his eyes shut; then when the Ascending Orpheus jibed sharply in on the Jenny's port flank, putting her in shadow, he snatched up a grappling hook, whirled it a couple of times in a vertical circle and then let it fly up toward the big ship's rail; sunlight glittered on the points at the moment of pause, then the hook dropped onto the rail and gripped.
Certainly this is the last time the Jenny will besiege the Carmichael, he thought as he began climbing hand over hand up the rope.
The effort started his nose bleeding and made his head feel as if it would burst, and when he finally got to the top of the rope and paused for breath straddling the rail he couldn't remember why he was there. Some time seemed to have passed - this was the Vociferous Carmichael, he was sure ... but most of the railing was gone, and the whole forecastle structure, too! Had they still not reached Jamaica? Where was Captain Chaworth? And that sick girl with the fat physician?
His disorientation ebbed a little when he recognized the girl's father coming down the ladder from the poop deck - what was his name? Hurwood, that was it - but then Shandy frowned, for he had remembered the man as having only one arm.
He was distracted then by fighting on the quarterdeck, and when he looked closely - it was hard to focus in all this glaring sunlight - he really thought he was losing his mind. Haggard men in ragged but gaudy clothes were climbing aboard all around him and doing desperate battle with impossibly animate corpses whose withered hands shouldn't have been able to clutch a cutlass, and whose milky, sunken eyes shouldn't have been able to direct the strokes. The blood running sluggishly from Shandy's ears and the pounding in his head robbed the scene of nearly all sounds, giving everything the grotesque unreality of a fever dream, and the question of why he had chosen to adorn his jacket with two mummified human forearms seemed relatively unimportant.
He didn't trust his balance, so he climbed very carefully down onto the deck. The man who seemed to be Benjamin Hurwood was coming toward him now, a welcoming smile crinkling his old face ...
And then Shandy was dreaming, had to be, for he was standing beside his father in the dimness of the scaffolding above a marionette stage, both of them staring into the brightness below and busily working the crosses that controlled the dangling puppets; and it must have been a crowd scene they were doing, for many more crosses were hung in the spring-hooks that kept the idle marionettes below swaying and bobbing slightly. In a moment he had forgotten that it had to be a dream, and was panicking because he didn't know what play they were doing.
He squinted at the little figures below, and instantly recognized them. They were the Julius Caesar marionettes. And luckily the third act had begun, there wasn't all that much more to do - they were already in the assassination scene, and the little wooden senators all had their standard right hands replaced by the dagger-clutching ones.
The Caesar puppet was speaking - and Shandy stared, for the face was no longer wood but flesh, and he recognized it. It was his own face. "Hence!" he heard his miniature self say. "Wilt thou lift up Olympus?"
The senator puppets, who were also flesh now, moved in for the kill ... and then the scene abruptly winked out, leaving Shandy standing on the Carmichael's deck again, squinting against the sun-glare at Hurwood.
A confident smile was fading from the old man's face, but he struck again, and Shandy was kneeling in hot sand on the New Providence beach, staring critically at the four bamboo poles he'd shoved upright in the sand. They had stood well enough until he'd tried to lash others across the tops of them, and now they were all leaning outward like cannons ready to repel an attack from all sides.
"Weaving a basket?" Beth Hurwood asked from behind him.
He hadn't heard her approach, and for a moment he was going to reply irritably, but then he grinned. "It's supposed to be a hut. For me to sleep in."
"It'd be easier if you made a lean-to - here, I'll show you."
It had been a day in July, during the refitting of the Carmichael; Beth had shown him how to put together a much stabler structure, and there had been one moment when, standing on tiptoe to loop twine over the peak of one of the leaning poles, she had fallen against him, and for a moment she'd been in his arms, and her brown eyes and coppery hair had made him dizzy with an emotion that included physical attraction only to the extent that an orchestra includes a brass section. It was a memory that often recurred in his dreams.
This time, though, it was going differently. This time she was using a hammer and nails instead of twine, and her eyelids and lips were pulled open as far as they could go and her teeth and the whites of her eyes glared in the tropical sun as she laid his arms out along the bamboo poles and held the first nail to his wrist ...
... and again he was standing on the Carmichael's deck, blinking at Hurwood.
Hurwood now looked definitely uneasy. "What the hell's wrong with your mind?" he snarled. "It's like a stripped screw."
Shandy was inclined to agree. He kept trying to remember what he was doing here, and every time he glanced at the nightmare combat going on around him he was astonished and horrified anew. And now, as if to outdo all his previous disorientations, the deck stopped pressing against his boot-soles and he slowly began to rise unsupported into the air.
Instinctively he reached to grab something - and what he grabbed for was not a rail or the rigging, but the hilt of his saber. The protruding compass needle punctured his palm, but the same impulse that had made him grab it made him hang on. He began to sink, and a few seconds later he was again standing on the deck.
He looked around: the fighting was going on as horribly as before, though all sounds were still muffled for him, but none of the combatants were coming anywhere near Hurwood and Shandy - apparently they considered it a private duel.
There was an expression of alarmed wonder on Hurwood's face, and he was saying something too softly for Shandy to hear. Then the old man drew a rapier of his own and ran nimbly at him.
Shandy was still painfully gripping the hilt of his own sword, and now he wrenched it free from his belt just in time to sweep Hurwood's point away with an awkward parry in prime, and then he hopped back and more easily knocked aside the old man's next thrust - and then the next. The gray forearms attached to his jacket swung and bumped against each other sickeningly.
Blood from his spiked hand made the saber grip slippery, and every time his blade clanked against Hurwood's the compass needle grated against the bones in his palm, sending an agony like tinfoil on a carious tooth all the way up to his shoulder.
Hurwood barked a harsh syllable of laughter and sprang forward, but Shandy clenched his fist on the saber grip - driving the needle even deeper between the bones of his palm - and caught the incoming blade in a corkscrewing bind that yanked the hilt out of Hurwood's fingers; the pain of the action made Shandy's vision go dark for a moment, but with a last twist he sent Hurwood's sword spinning over the rail, and then he just stared down at the deck and took deep, gasping breaths until his vision cleared.
Hurwood had scrambled back, and now looked off to the side and pointed imperatively at Shandy. Obviously this was no longer a private duel.
One of the decayed mariners lurched obediently across the deck toward them; his clothes were ragged scraps and Shandy could see daylight between the bones of one shin, but the shoulders were broad and one bony wrist was whipping a heavy cutlass through the air as easily as a sailmaker wields a needle.
Shandy was already close to exhaustion, and the needle embedded in his hand was a hot, grating agony. It seemed to him that the jar of a butterfly alighting on the blade of his saber would be more torture than he could bear and stay conscious, but he made himself step back and lift his sword, though the move made the world go gray and drenched him in icy sweat.
The dead man shambled closer - Hurwood smiled at the thing and said, "Kill Shandy." - and the cutlass was whipped back over the bony shoulder for a stroke.
Shandy forced his eyes to focus, forced his ploughed hand to be ready ...
But the cutlass lashed out sideways, slamming into Hurwood and flinging him away aft across the deck, and in the instant before the necrotic sailor collapsed in skeletal ruin and, simultaneously, the gray arms evaporated from Shandy's jacket, Shandy's eyes met the gleam in the sailor's sunken eye-sockets and there was exchanged recognition and wry greeting and a farewell between true comrades. Then there was nothing but tumbling old bones and some scraps of gaudy cloth on the deck, but Shandy let go of the torturing saber and dropped to his knees, then forward onto his ravaged hands, and his ears had cleared enough so that he could hear his tears patter on the deck.
"Phil!" he wailed. "Phil! Christ, man, come back!"
But Davies, and all the dead men, were gone at last, and aside from Hurwood the only men on the sunny deck were men who had climbed up from the Jenny.
Hurwood was leaning against the starboard rail, his face white as ashes, clutching the stump where his newly regrown arm had been. There was no blood leaking from it, but evidently it required all the man's sorcerous concentration to keep it that way.
Then Hurwood was moving. He pushed away from the rail and, one ponderously careful step at a time, plodded toward the aft cabin door. Shandy struggled to his feet and shambled after him.
Hurwood gave the door a kick - it opened, and he tottered inside.
Shandy stopped just outside and stared into the dimness. "Beth!" he called. "Are you in there?"
There was no reply except muttering from Hurwood, and Shandy took a deep breath, fumbled his clasp knife out of his pocket with his good hand, and stepped inside.
Hurwood was just straightening up from digging in an open chest against the bulkhead, and in his one hand he was clutching a wooden box Shandy had seen before. He turned and started toward Shandy, and Shandy felt the air thicken, pushing him back. It pushed him back out into the sunlight as Hurwood kept inexorably taking one step after another, and soon it became clear that Hurwood was heading for the ship's boat.
Shandy half opened his knife, laid his forefinger across the groove and then let the blade snap down. Blood spurted from his gashed finger, but the air stopped resisting him. Evidently even unmagnetized iron was enough now to fray Hurwood's spells. He stepped forward and, before Hurwood noticed his sudden freedom to get in close, punched the box out of Hurwood's hand.
The box bounced across the deck. Hurwood, his mouth hanging open from sheer effort, turned and tried to walk; he fell, but then on his knees and one hand he began crawling toward the box.
Hardly able to move any better himself, Shandy lurched ahead of the creeping man and sat down on the hot deck beside the box and, his finger still painfully caught under the clasp-knife blade, fumbled the top of the box off.
"My saber," he croaked to Skank, who was tying a bandage around his own thigh. The weary young pirate paused long enough to kick Shandy's doctored sword clattering across the deck to him.
Without unclamping the knife from his finger, Shandy grasped the injuring saber, squeezing the compass needle deep into his hand again, and then drove the sword's iron point down into the box.
The dried head inside imploded with a sound like old upholstery ripping.
Hurwood stopped, staring, then took a rasping breath and expelled it in a howl that made even the most badly wounded of Shandy's pirates look over in wonder. Then he collapsed, and blood began jetting from the stump of his arm.
With a shudder Shandy dropped the sword again and pulled the knife off his finger. Then he began clumsily using the knife to cut his cursed jacket into strips to use as a tourniquet - for if Beth wasn't aboard, he didn't want Hurwood to bleed to death.
Dizziness, nausea, and occasional moments of blank forgetfulness all helped make Shandy's search of the Carmichael a time-consuming one, but the main reason he took so long - looking inside chests that couldn't possibly have contained Beth Hurwood, and checking some cabins twice to see if she'd doubled back on him - was that he dreaded what he'd probably have to do if it became certain she wasn't aboard. The moment came, though, seeming all the bleaker for the postponement, when he had to admit to himself that he'd checked every cubic foot of the vessel. There was more gold and jewelry in the hold than could be unloaded in a day, but no Beth Hurwood.
He climbed listlessly back up to the main deck and blinked around at the battered men who awaited him, until he spotted Skank. "Hurwood regained consciousness yet?" he asked.
"Not last I heard," said Skank. "Listen, though, did you have any luck down there?"
"No." Shandy turned reluctantly toward the cabin where Hurwood had been carried. "Get me a - "
Skank stepped in front of him, backed up by the dozen other men who could still walk; the young pirate's face was as hollowed and hard as a sand-scoured twist of driftwood. "Captain," he rasped, "you said he had his goddamned loot aboard, damn you, the stuff from all the ships he - "