Shandy stood up and walked down to the shore. Just visible across the harbor's half mile of dark water was the silhouette of Hog Island against the stars, and nearer at hand he could see bare masts swaying gently to the breeze and the low swells. He heard the chuff of boots approaching from behind him, and when he turned back toward the fires he saw the lean figure of Philip Davies striding toward him, a bottle of wine in each hand. Behind him the settlement musicians had begun tuning up their random instruments.
"Here y'are," said Davies drunkenly. "Who deserves the best of the wine, if not the cook?" He held out one of the bottles, which for lack of a corkscrew had simply been broken off at the neck.
"Thank you, captain," said Shandy, taking the bottle and eyeing the jagged neck mistrustfully.
"Chateau Latour, 1702," Davies said, tilting up his own bottle for a swig.
Shandy sniffed his and then raised it and poured some into his mouth. It was the driest, smoothest Bordeaux he'd ever tasted - and his father and he had had some fine ones at times - but he kept any pleasure from showing in his face. "Huh," he said carelessly. "Wish I'd found some of this when I was scouting up ingredients for the stew."
"For the stew." Half of Davies' face was lit by the firelight, and Shandy saw it crinkle in a sour grin. "I was a youngster in Bristol, and one Christmas evening when I was just leaving the woodworking shop where I was 'prenticed, some street boys broke our window to snatch some stuff. What they didn't take they knocked over, and there was this ... " He paused for a sip of the wine.
"There was this set of little carved choirboys, none of 'em bigger than your thumb, all painted nice, and I saw one of 'em fall out onto the snow, and one of the boys caught it with his toe as he ran off, and it ricocheted away down the street. And I remember thinking that whatever became of that little wooden fellow, he'd never again sit in that little slot he fell out of." Davies turned toward the harbor and breathed deeply of the sea breeze. "I know what you're planning," he said to Shandy over his shoulder. "You've heard about how Woodes Rogers is due here any day with the King's Pardon, so you're planning to slip away up the beach tonight, around out of sight of the settlement, and hide till the Carmichael leaves - no, don't interrupt, I'll let you talk in a moment - and then you'll walk back here and resume your cooking and lay about in the sun and the rum until Rogers arrives. Right?"
After a long pause, Shandy laughed softly and had another sip of the excellent wine. "It did seem feasible," he admitted.
Davies nodded and turned to face him. "Sure it did," he said, "but you're still thinking in terms of that shop window you fell out of, see? You won't ever get back to where you were." He had a slug from his bottle and then sighed and ran a hand through his tangled black hair.
"First," Davies said, "it's a capital offense to jump ship in the middle of an enterprise, and so if you came wandering back into the settlement tomorrow after the Carmichael was gone, you'd be killed - regretfully, since you're a likeable lad and you can cook, but the rules are the rules. Remember Vanringham?"
Shandy nodded. Vanringham had been a cheerful boy of not more than eighteen, who'd been convicted of having hidden below when the brigantine he was in was fired on by a Royal Navy vessel. When the pirate ship had limped its way back to New Providence, its captain, a burly old veteran named Burgess, had let Vanringham believe that the prescribed penalty would be waived in consideration of his youth ... and then that night after dinner Burgess walked up behind Vanringham and, with tears glinting in his eyes, for he liked the boy, put a pistol ball through Vanringham's head.
"Second," Davies went on, "you cut me, after having surrendered. True, it was because I'd just killed your friend when I suppose I could have stopped him less lethally - but then he'd surrendered, too. In any case, you owe your life to the fact that I didn't care to have my showdown with Venner right then. But when I let you take the choice, it wasn't a choice between death on the one hand and three weeks of free food and drink on a tropical island on the other. You owe me hard service for that cut, and I'm not letting you out of the bargain you made."
The musicians, having found some basis for cooperation, began to play Greensleeves, and the melancholy old melody was at once so familiar and so out of place here - the tune rolling away down the lonely beach, bizarrely mocked by the cries of alarmed tropical birds - that it made all Old World things, and gods, and philosophies, seem distant and tenuous.
"And third," Davies said, the hard edge gone from his voice, "it may be that all those kings and merchants on the far side of the Atlantic are about to see the end of their involvement with these new lands. To them, Europe and Asia are still the chessboard that matters; they can't see this new world except in terms of two purposes: as a source of quick, careless profit, and as a dumping ground for criminals. It may be a ... surprising crop, that springs up from such ploughing and sowing, and Rogers may find when he arrives that none of us need, nor could even benefit from, a pardon issued by a man who rules a cold little island on the other side of the world."
The sea breeze, a bit chilly now, whispered among the palms on Hog Island and made the pirates' fires flicker and jump.
Davies' words had upset Shandy, and not least because they seemed to take the righteousness out of the purpose he'd crossed the ocean for - suddenly his uncle's action seemed as impersonally pragmatic as the devouring of the baby sea turtles by the hungry sea gulls, and his own mission as ill-considered as an attempt to teach the gulls compassion. He opened his mouth to object, but was pre-empted by a call from the crowd around the fires behind him.
"Phil!" someone was yelling. "Cap'n Davies! Some of the boys is askin' questions too hard for me to answer!"
Davies dropped his bottle into the sand. "That's Venner," he said thoughtfully. "How did that move go? Over the blade and fake a poke inside, then when he parries across you duck under - but not all the way around - and hit him in the flank?"
Shandy shut his eyes and pictured it. "Right. And then run past him on his outside."
"Got it." Raising his voice, Davies said, "With you in a moment, Venner."
As the two men trudged back toward the fires, Davies pulled a pistol out of his belt. "If Venner plays me square I can handle him," he said quietly. "But if he doesn't, I want you to hang back with this and make sure no - " He stopped talking suddenly and gave a weary laugh. "Never mind. I forgot I was talking to the little wooden choirboy." He put the pistol away and lengthened his stride.
Shandy followed, angry with himself - partly for feeling bad at staying out of a squabble between pirates - like a child feeling bad about refusing a foolish dare! - but partly, too, at the same time, for staying out of it.
His petticoat breeches whirling out around his knees at each ponderous step, Leo Friend reached the bottom of the sandstone track that led down from the ruined fort, and, sweating profusely in the confinement of his fantastically ribboned doublet, struck out across the sand toward the fires where Davies' crew was. Beth Hurwood strode along next to him, sobbing with fury and trying to disentangle the mummified dog paw that Friend had shoved into her hair - "This'll protect you in case we get separated!" he'd snarled impatiently - -just before dragging her out of her windowless room and unceremoniously propelling her ahead of him down the track.
Though she was having no difficulty in keeping up with the laboring young man, he turned around to face her every few steps, both to wheeze, "Hurry, can't you?" and to peer furtively down the neckline of her dress.
Damn all these delays, Friend thought, and damn the sort of fools we have to consort with in order to get to the focus in Florida! Why did it have to be ignorant, bickering brigands that found it? Though of course if a more savvy sort had found it, Hurwood and I wouldn't be able to manipulate them this way ... and I gather this Blackbeard fellow is very nearly too clever for us anyway. He's hanging back now, letting us commit ourselves to this Florida trip before joining us; he could have got those protective Indian medicinal herbs just by purchasing them, for God's sake, but instead he has to blockade the entire city of Charles Town, capture nine ships and a whole crowd of hostages including a member of the Governor's Council, and then ask for the crate of medicinal herbs as ransom. I wish I knew, thought Friend, whether the man is just showing off, just keeping his crew in battle trim, or whether he's using all that spectacle to conceal some furtive other purpose. But what plans could the man have that would involve the all-too-civilized and law-and-orderly Carolina coast?
He glanced again at Beth Hurwood, who had finally pulled the dog paw free of her hair, and as she flung it away he whispered a quick phrase and caressed the air, and her dress flew up - but she forced it back down before he'd seen anything more than her knees. Oh, just wait, girl, he thought, his mouth going dry and his heart thumping even faster - soon enough you'll be so hungry for me you won't be able to take a deep breath.
Friend came blundering into the fireside crowd just as Davies entered it from the beach side. The pirate chief was grinning confidently, and Friend rolled his eyes in exasperation. Oh, spare us the brave show, captain, thought the fat physician; you're in no danger from anyone here ... unless you really annoy me with your gallant posturing.
"Ah, here's our captain!" cried one of the pirates, a stocky red-haired man with a broad, freckled, smiling face; and though some of the men in the crowd were frowning angrily, Friend watched this smiling man, for he sensed that it was he who posed the threat. "Phil," the man said earnestly, "some of the lads here were wonderin' exactly what action we've worked so hard outfitting the Carmichael for, and how much profit we stand to take from it compared to what sorts of perils there be waitin'. I tried to answer 'em in general, but they want specific answers."
Davies laughed. "I'd have thought they'd all know better than to go to you for specifics, Venner," he said easily - though to Friend the apprehension behind the unconcerned pose was obvious.
Friend saw the new recruit - Elizabeth's friend, what was his name? Shandy, that was it - scuffling his way through the crowd behind Davies, and for a moment the physician considered engineering things so that the interfering puppeteer would be killed ... or, better, maimed, rendered simple-minded by a blow to the head ... but he regretfully decided that it would be difficult enough to restrain a crowd this big and wild from mutiny, without trying to get them to swat his personal fly at the same time.
He returned his attention to Venner, whose face, despite the smile, shone with sweat in the firelight. "That's what I told 'em, cap'n," he said, and for a moment the falsity of his smile must have been obvious to everyone present, "but several have said they plain won't sail if we be goin' to that damned place on the Florida coast where Thatch got infested by ghosts."
Davies shrugged. "Any of 'em who be not satisfied with my promise to make 'em rich, or who doubt my word on that, can see me privately to settle it. And any that want to desert in mid-endeavor know the prescribed penalties. Do you fit into any of those groups, Venner?"
Friend, peering in from the periphery, whispered and held up his hand.
Venner tried to reply, but produced only a choked grunt.
Should I have him provoke his own death, Friend wondered, or save him? Better let him live - there is real fear and anger in this crowd, and I don't want it stirred to a blaze. He whispered and gestured again, and Venner suddenly hunched forward and vomited onto the sand. The people near him drew away, and coarse laughter broke the tension.
Playing to the audience, Davies said, "I don't call that a responsive answer."
Friend's fat fingers danced in the air, and Venner straightened and said, loudly but haltingly, "No ... Phil. I ... trust you. I ... what's happening here? These aren't my ... I was just drunk, and wanted to ... stir up a bit of trouble. All these lads ... know you've got their best ... damn me! ... interests at heart."
Davies raised his eyebrows in surprise, then frowned suspiciously and peered around among the crowd; but Venner's words had been convincing enough for one pirate, who clumped up and punched the would-be mutineer in the face.
"Treacherous pig," the pirate muttered as Venner sat down in the sand, blood spilling from his nose. The man turned to Davies. "Your word sooner'n his, anytime, cap'n."
Davies smiled. "Try not to forget, Tom," he said mildly.
Out at the edge of the crowd, Friend smiled too - all this was so much easier here than it had been back in the eastern hemisphere - and then he turned to Elizabeth Hurwood. "We can return to the fort now," he told her.
She stared at him. "That's all? You ran down here, so fast I thought your heart was going to burst, just to see that man throw up and get hit?"
"I wanted to make sure that was all that did happen," said Friend impatiently. "Now come on."
"No," she said. "As long as we're here, I'll say hello to John."
Friend turned on her furiously, then caught himself. He smirked and raised his eyebrows. "The keel-scraper and brigand chef? I believe he's here," he said, simpering, "unless what I smell is a wet dog."
"Go back to the fort," she said wearily.
"So you c-can ... have c-c-congress with him, I suppose?" sputtered Friend, his voice shrill with scorn. He wished he could refer to sexual matters without stuttering. "B-banish that thought, my d-d-d - Elizabeth. Your father commanded me not to let you out of my sight." He nodded virtuously.