During the day, the barracks filled with light, the scent of earth and sun, and the noise of the sugarcane stalks being cut, piled, bundled, loaded. On his first night, Flint woke up to the smell of smoke, breathing ragged, his nose filled with the rampant odors of burning flesh and eyes attached to his, Miranda’s or Silver’s he could not tell.
Thomas was in the bed beside his and observed him quietly, watching over the nightmares. He nodded to the window. James got up and looked out. “They are burning the Western field.”
“Why?” James asked.
“It is meant to kill snakes. Two of us fell prey to them last September. Mr. Oglethorpe will not have that,” Thomas explained. “The cane itself survives, stalk and roots at least, even if the leaves go ablaze.”
Staring at the thin breath of flames lining the horizon, James waited until he stopped seeing Charles Town. It took some time.
The next month was spent learning, and like a sponge drinking water, his mind filled with new sights, tasks and persons. Captain Flint began to sink deeper inside him, dragging all down with him. The maroon camp and Nassau superimposed, Madi’s resolved, hateless fury, Billy extracting the lengthening shadow of Long John Silver from his mind, Gates’ neck broken and limp in the crook of his arm.
He sat on the humid ground, with Thomas crouched at his side, guiding his hand to pry the ratoons off from the stalk. James was a good student, patient, for the work filled in the hollows left in him. When Thomas got to his feet, his grace was the one of life itself.
That night, Flint dreamed of Silver. He was bundling up burnt cane and he came from behind, his limp noiseless in the soft earth. “You’re farming,” he said.
“Seems that way,” Flint said.
Silver waited a moment, tapping his crutch to the ground. “You’ll miss the sea. You’ll miss the crew. You’ll miss the ship.”
When and if that happens, do you really want me to find you, so that we can talk about it?”
Silver leaned on his crutch as if to prepare for a wave. “I must confess I have taken a liking to the sea now,” he said. “It is islands I have grown less fond of. They all seem haunted with you.”
He woke up under Thomas’ gaze. Thomas never tired of watching him. It was to wonder, James thought, if he slept at all. He held out his hand in the space between their beds and Thomas took it. It pulled James out of the water that he didn’t know had begun to pool around him. His memory smelled like salt now.
They were on their way back from the mill. Night had fallen and the stars shone might above. Waiting for the hay wain that would bring them back to the barracks, James and Thomas sat against a tree. James’ gaze was attached to the sky and his lips murmured names. “What do you see?” Thomas asked.
“Where the gems are buried. The one that entices minds and drowns the hearts.”
James chuckled once. “That one.”
Thomas paused for a moment. “Tell me what it looks like.”
James turned and shook his head. In the dim darkness, Thomas seemed to drift away, then nodded. A ray of moon light caught his silvery hair and he seemed immaterial.
In the morning, they had breakfast with the others in a large room. There was cornbread, goat cheese and some tea.
“Do you still want to know about the island?” he asked Thomas.
Thomas put down his cup. “If I can remove from your mind some of the weight it bears, and if the words can carry that weight into me so that I can know what claws at you, then yes. Tell me.”
James breathed out. “Inland, most of the terrain is swamp and forest. We saw no wildlife, but noticed traces of it. The ground is soft and swallows the steps as one marches. The trees are so tall they obscure the sky almost entirely. There are two small bays and two creaks, one of each at the North and South. The water is stagnant and becalmed. I cannot remember the inlet’s banks and beaches without blood and bodies on them,” he said.
Thomas had never let go of his eyes and James had held onto them. “How many bodies?”
He had seen Dooley come behind Silver, and his hand had fired already while his mind was attached to the image of the blade that would have come out of Silver’s chest. “Too many for it to make sense. It was never enough.”
He had noticed that Thomas’ touch on his cheeks and neck felt different, but had not really been able to place it. It took him some time to realize that the hands that he remembered were fine and pale were hardened, the skin thickened and dry in places. They compared them during a break from work. Thomas’ calluses were at the heel, from shoveling, and along the side of the index finger, from ratooning. His were across the palm and at the heel of the thumb from the ropes and the swords.
Thomas smiled, not without sadness. “Do you remember-...”
“Yes. Yes,” James said, hoarsely.
James McGraw was already awake when Thomas Hamilton opened his eyes. The young Lieutenant drew up his socks over his calves and Thomas watched, his cheek still in the pillow. Miranda walked into the room, her silk gown about her like a cloud, and held out a small golden, engraved bowl that held a brightly white pumice stone. “Here. What did you want it for?” she asked James.
The younger man tied the black ribbon into his hair and gave a smile reminiscent of shyness. “For my hands,” he explained. He took the stone from Miranda. She sat on the bed, near Thomas’ feet. They both watched quietly as James rubbed the stone at the calluses in his palm. “Whitehall may value the Admiralty's influence and the hard work of its naval officers, but most of its Lords dislike to shake hands that betray said work.”
Thomas sat up in bed. “When we move to Nassau, you will not have to do this anymore,” he said. “Your hands bear only the mark of your work in the world. You should not have to hide it.”
James chuckled. From his hands, tiny flakes of skin fell to the ground. “Chances are that, during the voyage, you will acquire some of those marks yourself.”
The young Lord cocked an eyebrow. “Really?”
“If we encounter a storm, we might need all able-bodied men to keep us on course.” He put the stone back in its hold and grinned. “I will show you how to tie knots, pull ropes, climb masts. Might make an acceptable sailor out of you.”
Miranda looked at her husband. Her smile became a cascading laugh. “What?” Thomas said, his own smile broad.
“Lord Thomas Hamilton, salon host, philosopher of the Parliament and acceptable sailor of the high seas,” she said.
In the parlor, the maid dusting the tall velvet curtains heard their laughs echo through the bedroom's closed door.
He drew it at night, by candlelight, with the taste of blood at the back of his throat. It was partly from memory of Avery’s journals, partly from remembrance of his stay. It still seemed like he had lived years there, in the jungle of Silver’s lies and truths. When his dreams took him at their deepest, he woke with his ear still buzzing from the bullet’s graze. He had not heard Silver’s strangled gasp, but he had seen it. The words then had taken a moment to reach him. “Captain Flint is dead,” Silver had said, a tear touching his lip.
When he was done, he showed the map to Thomas. “Strange that what drives fear into our soul could be such a tranquil shape of curves and lines,” Thomas said, running his finger along the edged contours.
“At least, it does not fester in my mind anymore,” James said. “Whenever I closed my eyes, I saw its imprint, like a burn.”
Thomas folded the map, in two, then again, and again, until it was but a square in his palm. Then, he slid it into the pocket of his nightshirt, the one near the heart. James leaned forward and covered it with his hand.
That night, he slept soundly.
He woke up at the crack of dawn, and walked outside, fetching some water from the well to wash his neck and face.
Sure enough, Silver waited for him there. “There’s not everything on that map,” he said. “The cache is missing.”
“Of course it is,” Flint said. “Do you know why?”
“Because he would never ask you about it.” Silver shook his head. “And do you know why I know that?”
James looked on, and waited for the answer.
Silver turned his face toward the sun. “Because I would not have asked either.”
This fic was posted here on my tumblr late last night (typos and all).
The title is from a Stephen Crane poem (number 81 in the Katz edition, seventh poem of War Is Kind). Here it is in full. (Because never, in the history of titling fics after poems, was a poem more appropriate for this show, puns about ships and all.)
I explain the silvered passing of a ship at night
The sweep of each sad lost wave
The dwindling boom of the steel thing's striving
The little cry of a man to man
A shadow falling accross the greyer night
And the sinking of the small star
Then the waste, the far waste of waters
And the soft lashing of black waves
For long and in loneliness
Remember, thou, O ship of love
Thou leavest a far waste of waters
And the soft lashing of black waves
For long and in loneliness
Chapter 2: 2.
It started subtly enough that Flint thought his eyes were tricking him, a flickering sign of an old life transposed in this that he had now – be it life or death. Under normal circumstances, the workers mostly did not see the guards. Not that it was not clear that they were kept in the plantation: the tall fences, the strict hours, the detached authority of the men assigning them to fields, carpentry, mill. The simultaneous lack of intimacy and isolation provided by the separate beds in the barracks’s common sleeping rooms. The lights perched high in the watchtowers at night.
And one morning it changed. They were plowing the field North of the mill. They stopped near midday to splash water on their necks and faces. Flint gestured toward a guard thirty feet to their right, as he leaned toward Thomas. “Something must have happened. The jailers are usually courteous enough to remain at a distance. Preserve some appearance of freedom.”
Thomas observed the guard over James’ shoulder. “And I have never before set eyes on him. He must be new.”
James arched an eyebrow. “Reinforcements, then.” He cast another quick look back. “And he has at least a pistol, a dagger at his belt and a sword at his side.”
That night, during a moment of calm, when the other men had gone quiet, Thomas said, “Imprisonment is harder now that you are here.” His eyes were cast James’ way. “I barely noticed it at first. The fresh air replaced the acrid smells of Bedlam. The sun made me think myself alive again. Now, these very things seem deceitful.”
“Suffering is easier on one soul. It can engulf it, consume it until nothing is left breathing,” James said. “Shared-…” James does not blink for fear of finding Miranda’s pale face in the darkness, “… it becomes bearable, it becomes acceptable, it becomes the world.”
“And this is how we become cowards, exactly like those we most despise,” Thomas said. His voice had its new quiet, the one that James had not heard before. Years ago, in London, he had seen Thomas outraged in his salon, passionately frustrated by an argument, deeply annoyed at the news of an impromptu visit by his father. But this firm resolve, James had understood in the past weeks, was rage. It did not have cannons, smoke, the screams of creaking wood or the foul smell of steel cutting through belly. Its stealth matched its depth. Flint had destroyed and killed. And meanwhile, Thomas had thought and thought.
“They think we are a weakness to each other, that you are nothing to me except what I can lose,” James said. “They do not know that you are the fire and the blade that razed and killed. My fire. My blade.”
For a moment, the words hung in the air. The night was opaque.
Near morning, all the men woke at the sound of shots fired in the distance. Far away, no doubt, but within hearing range. There were five of them – two, then three. And all stopped.
They all gathered at the windows. Thomas and James stayed back. “We need to know what is going on,” James said.
Thomas nodded. “I may have some privileges with Mr. Oglethorpe.”
Flint had seen Mr. Oglethorpe only the one time, and, in his mind, he was still the man accepting the pouch of gold with a dreamy smile sitting content on his pink features.
He lived in the white mansion at the front of the plantation. It was old and the walls reeked of too many storms passing. As it turned out, Thomas was indeed held in some favor, for the compliance or amicability as a prisoner that, James knew, burned him like hot coal.
They were led through darkened rooms. Some had shelves lined with ledgers and books. In all, the air was dusty, heavy, as if things unknown and forgotten ran rampant.
Mr. Oglethorpe was alone. He did not seem worried regarding last night’s events, but perhaps, James thought, he was not aware of much beyond the scope of his own noble intentions, shrouding him in a daze of moral delights. “Thomas,” he greeted. “There have been worries as to last night’s brawl?”
“A brawl? We heard gunfire from the barracks. It was not an escape, was it?” Thomas asked, no different than he had been in his London salon, the same litheness, the identically constrained expression. To the young Royal Navy officer James had been, it had appeared so formal as to be theatrical during his first visits. But he had learned to see it for what it was: the spectacle necessary for honesty to make itself heard.
Mr. Oglethorpe gave a wide shake of his head. “An escape to what? Many men here acknowledge in their hearts what I hold dear in mine,” he said. “That they are here to be protected from the world, and not for the world to be protected from them. People paying me for my services here are paying especially to cling to the latter idea. While we all know that my foremost ambition is to keep the whole of you safe.”
James lifted an eyebrow. “The recent upgrade in guards in the fields is to keep the world out?”
Mr. Oglethorpe turned toward him slowly. “We caught a Spanish spy in the Western field two weeks ago,” he said after a moment’s thought.
“A spy?” Flint said. “Searching for what?”
“He died,” Mr. Oglethorpe said.
Thomas’ eyes met James’ briefly. “It is most unfortunate,” Thomas said. “Excuse me if I am perplexed by your lack of concern? But the men here are not fighters. Any armed intrusion on the plantation would be disastrous.”
“Even though I am not particularly reputable, I still have friends in London,” Mr. Oglethorpe said. “I can call to them if necessary.”
James stepped forward, his shackled hands crossed before him. “You can hold on all you want to the belief that English aristocracy pays you to be their jailer. But they don’t,” he said. “They pay you to cleanse their memories. You are the protruding tip of their hypocrisy, standing above water. And they have no intention of glimpsing what hovers below.” Oglethorpe eyed him coolly. “England won’t help you.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Send someone to a nearby port. See what rumors are in the air,” Thomas said. “A neutral port.”
Oglethorpe chuckled once. “Send someone to Nassau? In these midsts?”
James looked out the window. It was partly obscured by a curtain, but he could glimpse part of the field beyond, and above it, the sky that glimmered like the sea. “The latest news has it that it is English soil. As per the treaty.”
For a moment, Oglethorpe stilled, seemed to think, ran his finger over the rim of his wine glass. Then, he got up. “What is going on?” he asked, coming around his desk to a stop before the two shackled men.
There were no guards in the room. The one who had escorted them was outside, by the door, and could be handled reasonably. But Thomas was not trained for this, James thought.
“I know what the Spanish were looking for,” James said.
Israel Hands and the others looked at the parrots fleeing the trees. The jungle smelled rotten, and it was a moment before one of them decided to move.
They found Silver standing, eyes staring fixingly ahead, his arm by his body with his pistol still in it, smoking and warm. Before him was Captain Flint, standing, pale, shaken as if by a long fight.
After a moment, Silver spoke. “I will tell you all a story,” he began, slipping the pistol in its holster at his waist. “Captain Flint was the cruelest, most feared pirate of the high seas. His crew respected him, but did not like him. They could not trust his words. And one day, they rebelled and left Flint on a nameless island to be rescued by a nameless ship months after, crazed and feverish. The ship left him in Savannah. The only friend Flint could make was a pet parrot.” Silver’s eyes had not left Flint’s. The men still had their hand to their sword.
“How did he die?” Israel Hands asked.
Silver swallowed dry. “It is said that he died in drunken misery,” he said. “People say that all his men were afraid of Flint. But that even Flint was afraid of Long John Silver.”
Flint closed his eyes. Silver dropped his.
“I want you to tell this story to everyone you know. Every fellow you meet, every new mate, every young sailor, every whore. To your wife, and your children,” Silver instructed the men. “Am I clear?” A vague mumbling came from around him.
On his way down the hill, Silver tried to catch Flint’s eyes. When he did, he realized his eyes burned. It was much later, on the ship, that he saw the tear tracks on his cheeks.
“They wanted you?” Oglethorpe said.
“What I know,” James corrected. “It is worth nearly two million in gold. The war against England is coming. They will need that money.”
Oglethorpe went to the window. “You were brought here two months ago,” he said. “And you want to leave?”
Thomas stepped forward, the chains clanking. “I will go.”
“At least in part because you know that I will return.”
Oglethorpe turned toward them. His back to the window let the light filter in the dark gray of the room. He looked at James. “Do you truly believe that there are only two kinds of people – the monsters that devour, bleed and destroy, or those that are devoured, bleed and perish? Is there no middle ground?”
“If it is true that you want to protect us, then you should do this,” Flint said.
Thomas was to leave the next day.
At dawn, they came to get Thomas in the barracks. As he dressed, he told James a story. “Pelagius was of the mind that sinners learned their sin from others. Augustine was of the mind that it was in them from birth. Pelagius was once admitted to converse with Augustine, to discuss their ideas. They met in Antiochus and talked, but came to no agreement.”
“When Pelagius left,” James picked up, “Augustine sent men after him. They pursued him to where he was hidden in the Egyptian desert. It is said he died there.”
Thomas smiled. “Augustine was Bishop of Rome. And Pelagius was nothing.”
Flint looked sternly at him. He leaned in close, put his hands on Thomas’ shoulders and stroked down his arms. “When you are there, ask for Max. When you can talk with her, ask for him. Either he will be coming in Nassau periodically, or word will be sent to him.”
Thomas touched their foreheads together. He placed his hand over his chest, where the island map was tucked, underneath his coat. “This will not stop the Spanish from coming.”
James smiled. “I hope it won’t.”
At last, before he left, Thomas grabbed James’ neck and brought them close. “I may be your fire. But you are my hopes and my dreams.”
Flint’s breath left him. “What if these dreams are nightmares?” he said.
Thomas’ eyes were aflame. “Whatever they are, I want to see.”
Chapter 3: 3.
The day James returned from Nassau, Peter Ashe stayed for a late dinner at the Hamiltons’ residence.
They sat at a smaller table in one of the salons. Miranda still seemed troubled, but her emerald dress was the color of the virgin fields and prairies of New Providence. Before the Lieutenant’s eyes, the bright, shattered light of the chandelier spilled over into the thicker, yellower lights of the candles in the Nassau tavern, where all smelled and moved like a new world, unshaped and rough. “James,” Thomas was saying, at some distance. “James,” he called again.
“Pardon?” James said, coming out of a daze. Thomas’ hand was on his arm.
“Is it the pirate coup in Nassau that distracts you so?” Peter asked. “If you argue the case well, Lieutenant, the setback will be temporary-…”
Thomas sighed and sat back, his fingers leaving James’ arm. “A setback. All that Whitehall will see is a volatile society. While its volatility is not the cause, but the symptom of the flawed regime England has maintained there. Even the Admiralty won’t make them see that.”
Peter hesitated and his mouth drew a tight line. “Volatility is a strong word. It could be better to picture it as a…” He tilted his head up into the light, and went on, as if taken with his own words. “Malleability. The possibility for change. An unruled society, torn by violence, will follow any leader strong enough-…”
“England should go there to slit throats as well?” James cut him.
Peter stilled and sat back, frowning briefly. “We here all agree that some crimes cannot go unpunished.”
Firm and soft, Miranda cleared her throat. “People abused with unjust ruling become violent when it is their only option. When the only voice left for them is the one of their weapons,” she said. “But even if they are not any less likely to listen to reason, we must be careful about giving them the means to hear it, see it as such.”
Thomas’ eyes had not left James. “What did you see in Nassau, James?”
For a moment, James left again, feeling uprooted in the way he did whenever the ship dipped forward after the crest of a wave. He searched for words with everyone’s eyes on him. “Nothing that England didn’t cause. From afar or near, there is nothing in New Providence but England’s doing,” he said.
That night, James slept with Thomas’ head in the crook of his neck.
At morning, when the room was still gray and dark, Thomas asked, “How is it, the city of Nassau? Is it small?”
“Very,” he answered. “It’s just a group of houses, really. Their walls are new and white, but they have already been battered by the storms of the spring. The air is heavy and damp, unbearably hot on some days.”
“Miranda told me you wanted us to go there,” Thomas said.
James turned to him. “From what I gathered, the pirates have camps on the beach. Their nights are spent drinking and fighting,” he narrated. “The fort is north, and the Governor’s house sits atop a hill. There is a tavern and a brothel.”
After a moment, Thomas’ face gave a warm smile in the darkness. “Taverns, brothels and pirate camps,” he repeated.
“It’s not a place,” James said. “It’s an idea. One that you can feel in your hands, plant your feet into. It’s freedom, Thomas.”
Thomas listened intently. Some time ago, James had learned to see the thoughts forming in his mind, emerging onto his face, shape it into a frown or a gaze. The one that came up now, barely grazing the surface, was strong and enthralling. When he saw it, James knew that it was in him as well. He would have called it fury, where it unfurled in his chest. But in Thomas, it was something else, something like hope, or folly.
“How I wish you’d seen it with me,” James whispered.
Idelle found Max at the parlor in the tavern. She was talking with the captain of a small merchant ship from Carolina. The captain thought he was negotiating with her. He also thought he was gaining ground in the negotiation. Max was mostly smiling and, on the surface, like the one of becalmed ocean, nothing showed.
Soon, Idelle knew, the smile would turn into a grip of iron.
She stepped forward. “We have a situation at the inn.”
Max frowned, knowing Idelle would not disturb her for another fight. “What kind of situation?”
“Someone is searching for Long John Silver.”
The captain choked on his rum, and when he turned to Idelle, his face had a ghastly look.
A shadow passed on Max’s face. She told the captain, “Please, excuse me. We will continue this at another time.”
They left the noisy tavern through the outside porch. On the wooden walkway outside, Max stopped Idelle. “Another dilettante pirate wanting a piece of the myth?”
Idelle shook her head. “They’ve been here two days. Four men. One of them doesn’t ever leave the room. The other three of them, well…”
Shifting on the side, Idelle tilted her head at the two men standing on the inn’s balcony on the other side of the walkway. Both of them looked strong, but well-clothed. So, not pirates. Nor slaves or servants by the looks of it. They were standing on either side of a window, their swords and pistols concealed under their coats, an unnecessary precaution here. “They’re guarding him. Two on this side, the other one by the door inside. They came from Florida, they said.”
Max stared at one of the men near the window until he stared back, quick and efficient about it. “What did they say about Long John Silver?”
“Just asked about John Silver,” Idelle said, enunciating the last two words carefully. It was a way in which people no longer spoke.
“And the man they keep inside, have you spoken with him?”
Idelle shook her head. Inside the room the guards watched, a candle was lit near the window. Its flame was weak, but in the coming night, it showed Max and her the figure of a slender man, not dressed like a pirate or a merchant, but in light-colored traveling clothes. He came to the window, stared out for a moment, then pulled the curtain shut.
At first, Madi’s plan was to fortify a part of the island’s eastern creak. Build a small, wide fort, install guns and make strong walls. Something that could be used for them to have a look-out on the sea, but that they could protect if attacked, store supplies in.
Silver said, “We could make it a port.”
The fire’s glow caught her cheek and her hair as she turned to him, brow furrowed. “To commerce with pirates and merchants? The Spanish ships come too close to this area. We cannot risk it.”
Silver was reminded of her mother, the Queen, who lived in a smaller house now, down the hill. He did not tell Madi that. “A few docks couldn’t hurt. We could use them as defense if things get nasty.”
It was decided that there would be a small fort, with a look-out on the sea. At its feet would be docks formed in a square, for the longboats, made of a black wood from deep in the jungle. It was Silver’s idea that they should nest gun powder stocks underneath the docks, sealed away from the waves. To be lit, if anyone tried to come through there. Madi approved.
He watched over the men, helped settle the pillars into the bay, his left leg weightless in the water. He was there when Eme arrived in a longboat from The Vergil. Her message was for him. She didn’t set foot on land and he listened to her in the water, with the waves breaking quietly at his waist.
“Max has said that they came from Florida, but they are not seamen.”
“Four men, you say?” She nodded.
She reached in her small leather purse. “Max also told me that they paid with this,” she said, holding out a coin.
It was a round Spanish dollar, a bit tarnished, but with the edges still rough. It had not sailed much. It had most likely been made in a colony on this side of the ocean. In fact, Silver knew exactly where he had seen it last. It was money from his share of one of the Walrus’ last prizes. It was the money he had paid Mr. Oglethorpe for Captain Flint.
“I see,” was all he said.
Eme looked down at him from the boat. Her stern face, halfway between curiosity and fear, was the one of someone who didn’t know exactly if they spoke with a legend or with a man.
Silver walked through the forest back to the camp, his clothes still damp with seawater and heavy with the smell of silt.
He dreamed of Flint that night. They were at the cliff-side, and had not yet picked up their swords from where they waited, stuck in the ground.
“Madi’s right,” Flint was saying. “It is a big decision. This place is a secret. To build docks, forts, is thinking that it someday won’t be. It’s opening it to the world already. Is it ready for that?”
“It’s not open yet,” Silver said. “But if people want to break it open, we have to be able to stop them. Hurt them.”
“You realize the only way this place, Madi’s place, opens up on the world is if it goes to war against it?”
Silver shook his head. “Stop it with the war.”
Flint huffed and his face was the one he had had on the docks at Savannah, lost like Silver had never seen him. “Why? If you don’t go to war, it will come to you.”
Silver had sent word to The Vergil to wait for him. The next morning, he waited for a longboat on the beach. Madi waited with him, and assured him that, when he would return, the fort and docks would be built. He left the island, but did not feel like he left home. His home was elsewhere, in another man's head, where he would never again go.
Starting near St. Ann, The Vergil had started following a round white cumulus. It hung low over the horizon when they reached Nassau. Before getting into the long boat, he told Eme that he wondered if Nassau had changed. She shook her head with something like sadness. Her fierceness was not gone, but somewhat dimmed.
At the docks, some merchants did not know who he was and turned puzzled eyes on those who stepped respectfully out of the way. Was it respect, exactly, Silver thought, or was it awe? The kinship he inspired in men, was it gone? He twisted his head around to eye the masts of the ship, the main sail flapping in the wind as the crew furled them to the yard. He had been only a passenger on the ship, which had left a strange feeling in his leg. He had felt its absence for the first time in a while.
Without having the command of men, Flint’s voice said to his ear, he was afraid he was scarcely himself anymore. Because the fragile and the strong always coexist in you, feeding on each other. All so you can learn to live with fear that you should crush. I don’t know what happens when it’s crushed, Silver answered, in his head.
Silver moved promptly, two maroons, Jeremiah and Euripides, following him. They avoided the beach. Too much attention this time of day. The streets were not cleaner, the air was not purer, the turquoise paint on the shutters of the tavern was still just as washed out, and, through the rumor of the nearby market, one could overhear the squeaking cries of a parrot. By the time Silver reached the inn, he was nearly certain that the only thing that was not the same here was him.
The inn was full, a loud Captain drinking his rum on the porch, two soldiers nearby, unfazed, their swords loose in their sheaths. The brothel next door was not less frequented. “We’ll wait for the night,” Silver said, his eyes to the windows above. In the cradle of his palm, he still held the Spanish dollar Eme had given him.
Jeremiah and Euripides nodded sternly, and followed him to find a spot of shade.
The sun had barely set when Silver returned to the inn. Max waited for him there, seated at a table. The main room was mostly empty, save for two whores who had wandered here with their customers. They spoke among themselves, while one of their clients snored peacefully into his rum bottle, the other on his way there. The older girl recognized him, and there was only silence after that.
“Mr. Silver,” Max said. “Do you know who is in that room?”
There were many things Silver thought regarding who might be in that room, but he knew nothing. The image of Flint had started to take shape before the eye of his mind, only to be dispelled every time Silver thought of what he would have to do, if it was Captain Flint up there. “No,” he said. “But from what I’ve heard, whoever they are, they are compliant, discrete and insist on seeing me.”
Max fingered with the cream cuff of lace at her wrist. “If it is Captain Flint, may I ask what you will do?”
He slowly made his way to the young woman, the crutch hitting the ground in time to mark his words. Max did not flinch, and watched him with the eyes of someone examining a character willed into believing their own story. “Captain Flint is retired from the account. Or dead, depending on whom you ask. It is said he made it to Savannah, acquired a pet parrot, and dwindled as the fire diminished in his heart and mind.”
“Is that so?” Max said. “Earlier this month, a young sailor came here, from a new crew. He told everyone he had seen Captain Flint off the coasts of Carolina.” Her eyes narrowed. “Business died for two weeks. The soldiers were nervous.”
“It wasn’t true,” Silver said.
“Of course not,” she said. “My point is, as you are about to go up these stairs, that you should decide what happens if it is him. Since Captain Flint must not be seen alive again.” She stopped and her eyes hardened somewhat. “I have men outside. They can take care of it.”
“No need,” Silver breathed. His climb up the stairs was heavy. Jeremiah and Euripides stayed behind.
Thomas Hamilton looked up from Cicero’s De Amicitia at the sound of irregular steps on the porch outside his room. First, the step of a cane or a crutch hitting the wooden planks, then a quick and lighter step.
It was nearly eight days ago that one of the men guarding him had reported news that John Silver had been contacted, in some form or other.
The quiet and the calm that he had longed for while still at the plantation, Thomas now found unbearable. Every day, he paced the room, his body so used to physical work, it found itself restless sitting at a table. Thomas did what he had always done – he tried to ignore the voice that spoke in his ear, saying, what have they done to me? since when have I turned into this and not known, all consumed in pain that I was – and he replaced it with a voice of his own, that said, this is how they change a man, this is what the lack of freedom does to a mind and a body, this is what is lost in all men who are punished, treated unfairly, forced outside the boundaries of reason.
There was talk with the guards outside. Then, the door opened. The guard hid the visitor from view. The flame of the candle flickered in the evening’s breeze.
When the guard stepped aside, he revealed a one-legged man, the fingers of his left hand white on the handle of a crutch he held by his side. His long dark hair was tied, and a short beard held his mouth, closed in a tight line. His eyes were attached to Thomas, intent and searching. The first thing that appeared in them was relief, which was soon shoved aside to be replaced with a tense worry.
“Paul,” Thomas said to the guard. “Could you please leave us?”
Paul looked at the visitor. “He’s a pirate. He could kill you.”
Thomas’ eyes shifted to Silver. “Are you going to kill me?” he asked.
Silver gave the thought some consideration, then said, “No.”
“Then, please, Paul. Mr. Oglethorpe sent me to investigate matters that require the trust of both parties. I will be more trustful if I can talk freely, and I am certain Mr. Silver would be more trustful if you were absent.”
The guard pondered for a time, not quite long, before he shrugged and stepped outside.
Once they were alone, Silver took two steps toward the table behind which Thomas stood. The candles on the desk, by the window and the bed made him seem terrible as he approached, like an old world moving about the room, roaming silently, using only violence and smoke to push itself up and forward. Thomas wondered if James had looked like this, but he knew, at the moment the thought formed, that indeed he had.
“You know me,” Silver said. “But I don’t know you.”
“I know in fact very little of you,” Thomas replied. “But we have a common acquaintance.” He held out his right hand. “Thomas Hamilton.”
It was a few hours only before he left the plantation. The barracks were deserted, unbearably hot at this hour, ridden with the damp air of the fields. Underneath James’ pale uniform, the shape of some scars was still visible. In his eyes, there were yet more of those, under the surface.
He sat on the cot in front of Thomas. “The man you’ll seek out is named John Silver,” he said, his voice present, but his mind drifting. “He is a fearsome pirate by now. The most feared of them all. Save for me, most likely.”
“Should I fear him?”
James shook his head. “No. He was…” He stopped. “He was my quartermaster. He has close interests in Nassau and will know if Spain is planning something here.”
Thomas looked down at the folded map of Skeleton Island he held in his hands. “And he will want this?”
The smile on James’ lips was fleeting. “He may not want it,” he said. “But he’ll take it. He needs it to continue what I have started. Or to make sure he doesn’t have to continue it.”
Thomas studied James for as long as it took to bring him out of his mind, and back with him, here, in the prison that they shared, and that had somehow become something like their home. “Do you miss him?” Thomas asked.
James swallowed. “He knew me when I stopped knowing myself. And he clung to that. And he used it.” His eyes never left Thomas’. “I don’t know how I feel about that.”
Silver tensed, cast his eyes down at Thomas’ hand and didn’t take it. “What happened?” he asked. “Why are you here?”
“Two weeks before I left, a Spanish spy tried to enter the plantation. Another one had tried a month before that.”
Silver frowned. “Spain? What were they after?”
Thomas went to a battered copy of Francis Bacon’s Essays, opened it at the 37th and removed the folded map from it. In the candlelight, the paper appeared to be a purer white than it was.
“What is it?” Silver asked. His eyes were riveted to the folded parchment. His fingers tightened on his crutch.
Silver took it and opened it quickly. Then he scuffed loudly. “There’s nothing on there.”
Thomas smiled quietly. “I know,” he said. “James told me where the cache was buried. I can point to you the correct site,” he said. “It seemed safer than to write it down in advance. Should it fall in the wrong hands.”
“James,” Silver repeated, the map still open in his hand, a gaping multitude of questions in his eyes. Then, in the blink of an eye, it vanished. “Do tell me,” Silver said.
Thomas stepped forward and laid out the map on the desk. He placed the pad of his thumb over the precise spot James had shown him, retelling what he had told him. “It’s near a creek. There is a cave with a flooring of coarse sand. The rock is black. It is buried at the opening of the cavern.”
Silver and him locked eyes briefly over the map, as Thomas marked the place of his thumb with a small cross. Then, there was nothing between them but the piece of paper. The candle’s flame flickered and threw a spark on the handle of Silver’s sword. “What do you know about this?” Silver asked.
“There was a Spanish treasure that James tracked and stole. With it, he intended to make Nassau free of English ruling. It failed. He was brought to the plantation in Savannah. The treasure remains on the island.”
The one-legged pirate stared at the small part of night sky visible through the window’s sheer curtain. “Did he tell you what role I played in that?”
Thomas frowned. “You were dear to him.”
“I betrayed him. It failed because of me. I brought him to Oglethorpe.”
For an instant, Thomas found himself contemplating another unfolding of time and space, in which he would only barely once hear the name of Captain Flint. In which the days would follow in the plantation, hopeless and ruined. In which he had never seen Nassau. In which James had not been returned to him. “Then, to some extent, I must thank you.”
Silver’s hand landed flat on the map. “All of this,” he said. “All of it is yours. This somber storm of a war, the pardons of England, the reform of piracy in New Providence. There is nothing here that isn’t your doing, through Flint’s hand. And likewise, I suspect you are here to act on his impulse. Why is he sending this to me?”
Thomas smiled. “I was also to ask you that you make it known that the treasure’s location is now in your possession.”
“To make sure the Spanish leave it alone?”
Since Silver had entered, some of the aggressive rigidity in his body, coiled like the one of a warrior, had faded. He had perhaps understood that no fighting was expected of him here. Or he had become aware that he should use other tactics. “It’s not the only reason,” Thomas said. The mask of the pirate king returned to Silver’s features for a second. “He wanted it out of his mind. In an attempt to erase the memory, he removed its image.”
Huffing quietly, Silver tapped his crutch loudly on the ground. “He wanted it out of his mind,” he repeated numbly. “And of course, he chose to put it into mine.” He shook his head. “I don’t want it.”
Thousands of hours amid sun and cane had led Thomas to think he had forgotten what it was to observe another human being keenly, hunting the expression on their face before it had even begun to form. But he was discovering that he hadn’t. He had always been good at reading people, a necessary talent in the practice of argumentation, rhetoric and politics. Silver’s face was a tomb of lead, its weight and mass the only sign of how much there was to hide. “If you could put a value on what you have suffered, Mr. Silver, would the treasure hidden on this island even come close to meet it?”
Something approached the surface on Silver’s face, not unlike a shark grazing the water. His eyes attached to Thomas’, and he breathed deeply. Then, he turned swiftly around to walk out.
At the door, he stopped suddenly. “This is what he meant for you,” he said, slowly, still thinking as he spoke. “Before your relationship was exposed in London, he meant for you to come here, to become Governor.” He frowned. “You are his king.”
“I’m a prisoner,” Thomas said. “Or, as Mr. Oglethorpe would put it, the world must be barred from reaching me, for I could tip it over.” He reached for the map James had drawn, folded it in two and held it over the candle’s flame until it caught fire. It was dry paper, and burned quickly. Thomas let the remnants fall from his hand to the floor. Soon, there were only black flakes left.
“I’ll send word around. By tomorrow morning, someone will stop by to tell you if we’ve heard of Spanish troops moving on the coast,” Silver said. “Then, I suggest you leave.”
It took a while for the regular sound of the crutch on the wooden planks of the stairs to leave Thomas’ mind.
Silver had insisted on some necessary precautions. They took a smaller ship, twelve guns, short masts, skeletal crew. Tom Morgan acted as Captain with strict instructions to avoid the main trading routes, and to disengage if any other ship came in sight. But they met no one. Silver spent most of his time below deck, where, instead of watching the ocean, he watched Flint.
It dawned on him when they were near the coasts of Florida, when the voyage was almost done.
Flint had relented and sat by the window in his cabin, broken or serene, Silver couldn’t tell. “I expected something from this journey,” Silver said.
The older man huffed around a faded smile. “Besides the obvious?”
“I thought that, somehow, at this end, I would know if you loved me, the way you loved them.” Flint just looked at him, as he had taken to do in the last few days, as if nothing could be said anymore. “Now, I find that it is the other way around,” Silver went on.
A patch of rough weather was coming. The ship’s bow dug deep into the waves, then back out. Out the window, one could see the dark blue of the water one moment, and the stark white of the sky the next.
Flint smiled at Silver, with a kind of sweetness that maybe both of them did not expect. “When you start loving someone, you stop being able to see clearly whether they love you or not. It’s its own capacity for blindness. With that chest of secrets you call a mind, blindness might not be a good idea.”
Silver nodded, as the realization kept unfurling around him. “I know.”
Yes, this is getting longer and longer (the number of chapters seemingly always set at n+2), but it shouldn't get any higher than 6.
Bacon's 37th essay is called Of Masques and Triumphs.
All the love.
The door to his cell opened. Thomas looked up. His visitor stopped short. He had changed, he supposed. He could no longer trim his hair or beard. The handcuffs had dug in his skin, leaving dried blood on his wrists. When they washed him, they poured water over his head, and he could not scrub his own skin.
“Thomas,” Peter Ashe said.
Thomas got to his feet, dragging the heavy iron shackles with him. “I know what you did,” he said. “Did you come here to make sure of what it was exactly you had done?”
“No. I…” Peter looked at the cell, the straw coming out of the mat on the ground, the mouse nosing at the remains of a meal in a plate. “James McGraw died five weeks ago, near Boston.”
Above Thomas’ head, a vent in the stone let way to a little sun. The light took a mocking tone - and then, Thomas felt, it disappeared entirely.
A man came by the inn long before dawn. Thomas woke up when he heard him speak to Paul outside. There seemed to be some disagreement, but after a moment, Paul walked in. He handed Thomas a paper. The scribbling on it was the one of a man who had long ago learned to write, but had had since little practice. It said, ‘Nothing from Spain. Leave.’
A mere hours later, he left the inn with his escort. It was strange, Thomas thought, that in such a small city, on such a small island, it was so hard for one to glimpse the sea. The streets were silent, deserted except for chickens, dogs and goats. He traveled in the middle of them, two at the front and one behind. The best prison was the one carried within the very minds of the prisoners. Where to escape out of one’s own head?
James’s return had hardened him. He realized it only now. Perhaps had James wanted it to harden him.
They left the city soon enough, and only when they reached the hills did the ocean come in sight. Its waves were calm, heavy and slow, pink in the rising sun’s glow. Thomas knew that over the horizon, a mere fifty miles southeast, lay the island of Eleuthera. A thin stripe of land, fragile and stretched, named after freedom and floating like a ribbon on the Atlantic.
Thomas had expected Oglethorpe to let him leave with one or two guards, but not to be escorted by his three strongest men. James glanced at them, unsurprised.
Thomas had changed into less used clothes. They spoke less of slavery and more of a simple traveler. Him, his escort, James and guards stood at the gate. The horses were being brought from the stable. James looked up at him. His eyes went to Thomas’ breast pocket, where the map was. “Much of my mind is there. It can be quite a weight to carry,” he said.
“That weight is as high as your hopes were,” Thomas said.
The leading guard called after Thomas. James’ eyes were still locked with his, when he said, “Things here… might be in a somewhat different state when you get back. Better hopefully.”
The guards were well within hearing range, as were their fellow prisoners, most of them lining up for a share of breakfast outside of the main barrack. It was dangerous for words to find ears not meant for them. “Hopefully,” Thomas repeated, eyes faintly narrowing, “You’ll have learned to cut cane properly?”
James squeezed his arm above the elbow. “Something like that.”
“Your hopes,” Thomas said. “They haven’t died, have they?”
“Strange are the things that just won’t die,” James said. “Safe travel. And safe return.”
John Silver had learned long ago that decisions were often not products of the will. But of myriad forces pushing together, carrying some things farther than others. Like sea currents, able to bring things back from the depth and push them ashore. Or able to take down a man, swallowing him into depths unknown.
He did not remember sleeping that night, but, this close to dawn, the world was only layers of gray. And maybe his eyes did close for a minute. Part of him was still in his bunk in a tent on the beach, and another was in Madi’s room in the Maroon camp. Her lips left his, but the warmth didn’t. He blinked a few times, because he had not expected this.
Madi smiled at him. “I have been taught at a young age that I could want whatever I wanted. Whoever I wanted. That I should not take it, but request if it would be taken,” she said. She had placed her body in front of the candle. The already faint light came from behind her, playing on the edges of her face. “You are not used to this, are you?”
Silver swallowed. “That doesn’t mean I’m not amenable to it.”
They kissed again. “I am curious,” Madi said, her breath against his cheek. “What do you want?”
“A place in the world. Some possibility to forget and remember again,” Silver said. “And before this, you. If you want to be wanted.”
She cupped his face. “You are careful to dispose the world so that it cannot see the whole of you. That doesn’t mean you cannot want things from it. You should want.”
Silver sat up on his bunk. The wooden floor of the tent was placed flush on the sand, and he felt every grain under his foot. It tickled the skin. It cringed under his boot when he put it on. He left Jeremiah and Euripides to sleep and walked out, headed for the tavern.
On that morning, the visit of John Silver was announced calmly to Augustus Featherstone. He knew Silver, or he had known him. The pirate had begun putting on a show of himself long ago. Both he and Featherstone knew it. But somehow, Silver seemed to believe it so much now, it was difficult for others not to believe it.
“Mr. Silver,” he greeted.
The pirate stopped in the middle of the room and gave him his best smile. “Governor, do you by chance happen to be in possession of Henry Avery’s notebooks, which were Captain Rackham’s not so long ago?”
Featherstone sat back. The sun was rising outside, coming through the shutters of the windows, casting John Silver in hatchings of dark and bright. “I might,” he said. “What need do you have for them?”
Silver stepped forward. A single thud of wood on wood. “Given that it is thanks to me, at least in part, that you have inherited this position, I would think my need for it is reason enough.”
The Governor stilled for a moment, then nodded slowly. He walked over to a small chest at the end of the room, standing in a corner, both blatant and forgotten. Inside, Avery’s notebooks were neatly piled. Featherstone reached for the third one.
He handed it to Silver. “I assumed – you meant the one with the map?”
Silver took it, not looking inside, his eyes not leaving Augustus’. “Governor Featherstone…” he pondered, with a dark curl to his lip.
“Yep. Governor.” Featherstone stepped back behind his desk. “Things are working here. Maybe they won’t work for long, I’ll give you that. But they do work. Are you sure you want to throw it all away?”
“Every man is entitled to want some things.”
Featherstone huffed. “You don’t seem like you want it. Money. The treasure. In fact, it doesn’t seem like the kind of things Long John Silver would want.”
“Oh,” Silver said. “And what does Long John Silver want?”
For a moment, Featherstone felt the world be at its tipping point: down one slope, he could get his throat slit, and down the other, nothing would ever change. He grinned. “A fine balance between prosperous commerce and a modicum of chaos. All things being equal, some peace - and some terror to make sure peace stays that way. The chance to talk us all into something, on occasions,” he said. “Nothing ever changes, John.”
John Silver’s eyes went empty, then he smiled quietly. “I’ll also borrow three of your horses.”
Featherstone gave a small bow. “They’re all yours. We’re all yours.”
Thomas’ eyes were on the ocean when it happened.
At a curve in the road, as they passed by a thicket of reeds, the horses neighed suddenly and Paul barely had the time to waive his sword. The two other guards behind Thomas were swiftly taken off their saddles. When Thomas set eyes on them again, they had blades at their throats.
Mr. Silver had come from the front and, in the confusion, now held Paul at gunpoint. He looked different in the daylight, shorter, more broad-shouldered, and, mounted on a black horse, much fiercer. The dust of the road that had risen in the air glimmered for a moment around them, clouding them in dirt, before settling down on their shoulders.
Silver’s two men put handcuffs on Oglethorpe’s men and sat the three of them in the grass beside the road.
The pirate approached Thomas slowly. When he was close enough, he said, “I want it.”
The wind brushed their skin with smells of sea, wet sand and salt. “I don’t recall the map itself. James drew it,” Thomas said.
The pirate reached in his pocket and took out a small leathery notebook. A page was marked. On it, on paper thickened by time and water, a sketch of an island, with rudimentary markings in English and Spanish. La isla esqueletica.
Thomas nodded carefully. “If you don’t harm these men. And if you tell me why you changed your mind.”
Silver considered the horizon for a moment. Then he nodded. “Stories deserve settings for them. It’s also only fair that you have a guided tour of the island before your leave.”
“Of all my friends, Peter, you are the one whose rationality is the fairest and most practical. Well-suited to the world that has nurtured it. You are telling me this for a reason,” Thomas said. The pain of the news of James’ death was a sharp opening of void, but his voice was steady. “What is it?”
He tilted his head up. Peter Ashe’s face was lit by the sun that came from the vent above. “I wanted you to understand that I had no choice.”
“You have destroyed all of me,” Thomas said. “There is nothing left, but a weak ember. And you want me to forgive you…”
Peter stepped back. “This would have destroyed us all.”
“And yet you desire forgiveness from the man that wrought such destruction on your life? Whom you have put in chains?”
The other man shook his head. An uneasy smile quivered on his lips. He seemed torn inside, but Thomas was unsure about what, if not about his own sake. “James McGraw is that man, Thomas. Not you.”
The tears welled in Thomas’ eyes and a bitter smile came to him. “This is the picture your mind has painted to you. That James was an animal to which I fell prey? That I was seduced by a force whose death could free me?” He rose to his feet, the shackles heavy on his wrists. “But you should know, Peter, that in James, I found a soul like mine. I cannot forgive you. I died. Five weeks ago, near Boston.”
Silver took them to the West, inland. They left the road and walked through cane fields until midday. The sun burned their necks and hands.
After a clearing, they passed near plantation houses, not unlike Mr. Oglethorpe’s. They slowed down when they reached what, in the distance, Thomas thought was a small house. As they grew nearer, he saw that there were walls, a well, a garden and a small stable, still standing, but that the house had burned down in part. Possibly over a year ago, given the tall grass surrounding it.
Silver suggested they stop here for the afternoon, wait for the heat to pass, and resume traveling at nightfall.
“What is this place?” Paul asked him.
“It is the house of a Puritan lady of New Providence. She lived alone here, but was friendly with the local pastor. As well as with Captain Flint, with whom it was said she shared a love for culture and freedom, and a scorn and anger for things unjust,” Silver told, as they walked in. “Her name was Miranda Barlow.”
The words turned in Thomas’ head, echoing endlessly. The door had burned down, as had the roof above their head. Part of the wall near the hearth was crumbled, and the tropical storms and winds had washed the wood clean, leaving water for plants and vines to grow along the walls. But he could still see Miranda’s hand everywhere. The garden outside, wild and untamed now, but where rows of tomatoes, potatoes and corn were still visible. The porcelain cups and the silver teapot, discarded by the fireplace. The book, abandoned on a shelf spared by the flames.
“Did she die in the fire here?” Thomas asked, in a strangled voice.
“No,” Silver said. “She died in Charles Town. The same day I lost my leg.”
Thomas felt weak. He steadied himself, and slowly walked to the door and stepped out on the porch. He sat down there and watched the garden, the fading afternoon, the rich earth at his feet.
All of this was but one tomb suddenly.
Silver had followed Thomas outside.
“Had he told you of Miranda’s death?” he asked.
Thomas shifted, ashen. “Why bring me here? Of all places that were no doubt destroyed, crushed in the throes of battle – why this one?”
Silver turned away, facing the trees. There was no line of sight on the water from here, there was only a line of bush and saplings, then the darker woods beyond, and until then cane and some corn. Yet, New Providence island was modest in size and the sea was a pervasive smell. It clung to the clothes, the hair and the skin, embedded in the coppery tan on their arms, their faces, their shoulders. Silver tilted his head forward. “If we could go beyond those trees, past this patch of wood, we would find a prairie with a road, and then a shallow cliff. Then the sea, of course. And beyond that, well, St. Ann, I believe.”
Thomas snorted. He had the stiffness of a man guarding himself from all things, but his body seemed used to it. The deep rolls of thoughts and emotions barely beneath the surface, Silver found that he knew. Or was it simply that Thomas Hamilton and James Flint had become the same person in the few months they had been together again? Or had James Flint always been part of Thomas Hamilton? Or were they only one and the same in Silver’s eye? “You believe?” Thomas said.
“Don’t tell anyone,” Silver said. “But I’m in fact an approximate sailor. I did learn some, over the years, but a pure sense of direction still eludes me.”
“Yet you landed on a ship? And became a successful pirate…”
Silver nodded. “I have other talents. I’m good at knowing exactly what people need and want. And sometimes I can even know the difference between these things when they themselves ignore it.”
Thomas held Silver’s gaze. “A talent that can generate admiration and hatred alike. That can, I am certain, become a curse if its bearer ignores what it is they themselves need and want,” he said. “And what you want, deeply and truly, is this treasure? This is what lies in your heart – greed?” Thomas gave a disbelieving smile. “Even in as remote a location as London, I knew that the portrayal of pirates as creatures of havoc and rapacity was unfair and unreal.”
There had been rare moments in Silver’s life like this one. Moments when he had neither seen the need to lie, nor the point in it. And even then he had often lied nonetheless. Force of habit, he supposed. But then, he told the truth, and, as usual, it felt like nothing, like being naked. “I don’t want the money. I want…” He closed his eyes and saw James Flint in the jungle of Skeleton Island, in equal, undistinguishable measure poise, rage and love. “I want something from him. Something of him that’s left in the world. Not the legends, not the words. Something I can see and touch, something that he wrapped his mind around, that was at the heart of his dreams for the longest time.”
The other man listened, patiently. For a moment, he searched for something to say. Then he extended his hand. Silver gave him the notebook and a stick of charcoal. Thomas found the page and again marked the map with the treasure’s location.
Silver pocketed the notebook. But there was something tense and unsettled in his demeanor. An hesitation. Or a remorse, maybe. Thomas could not place it.
“You don't intend to let me leave, do you?” he asked, finally.
Silver stopped. “At some point in the short period of time during which I knew James Flint, we stopped lying to each other. Our occasional lies were unwilling and we respected them for the fears they were,” Silver said. “You were James Flint’s war. And his hopes, and his rage. You are his truth.” He paused to tap his crutch pensively on the ground. “And it is very strange to try and lie to you. Something about it is… ill-fitting.”
“Then don’t lie.”
“I won’t,” Silver agreed. “The truth is – I’m reluctant to let you go.”
“Because I suspect there is still something he wants me to do,” Silver said. He pressed his hand on his coat, over the notebook. “This was for me. Shifting the burden from his mind to mine. But I think there is something for you here too. Something that he wants you to see.”
“I saw Nassau. I saw what James’ life had been.”
Silver looked away for a moment, closed-off again. “Stay here for the night. Tell your escort the roads are not safe by dark.”
Silver and his two men had some rum, bread and lard with them. Split evenly between the three of them and Thomas and his guards, it was a sparse, but welcome meal. They had built a small fire inside to grill the meat. With the roof mostly gone, they could see the stars above.
The three guards serving as Thomas’ escort sat on one side of the fire, uncertain if they should consider themselves prisoners, or not. Silver and his two men had taken their swords, daggers and pistols, and kept them at their sides by the fire. “You’re Long John Silver?” Paul asked.
“I am,” Silver answered.
“What do pirates want with us?”
Silver smiled, the firelight glistening on his teeth, in his eyes, in the curls of his hair. “As far as I’m concerned, you were the ones who asked after me. Not the other way around.”
On Paul’s face, the look had hardened. He was one of Mr. Oglethorpe’s most trustworthy guard, part of those closest to him. As far as Thomas knew, he had always been loyal, distant in his work, but fair. “Did you take part in the sack of Charles Town last year?”
All became quieter around the fire. “Yes, I did,” Silver said.
“It’s hard to believe I sit at a campfire with men like this. Drinking their rum, eating their food. As if you didn’t kill people, slaughter women, steal their goods, take their children.”
Silver leaned back slightly, away from the firelight. “What was done in Charles Town was done long ago, and in dire circumstances. Of all the men there that day, I know no one who didn’t lose something,” he said. “And sometimes it was something that they would have traded their own death against.”
Paul looked down into his metallic cup, lips drawn tight.
“You should speak your mind, Paul,” Thomas said.
“Pirates are cowards,” Paul said, with a tranquil rage. “Men who have fled their own lives rather than fought for it. Men who take refuge on the sea instead of finding a place on the land. Men who can’t deal with what they have, and who throw it away.”
For a moment, the only audible sound was the one of the cicadas outside. “And of men who have nothing? Of men who have been dealt by life only misery, slavery, pain and humiliation? What would you say of them?”
“It’s not because you haven’t got anything that you should kill for it.”
Silver gave a light chuckle. “There are moments, I assure you, when you become aware that never will you be in such a state as to have nothing to lose. As to have nothing that could be taken from you. There is always something that they can take,” he said. “And at that moment, death feels good. Comforting, like your place in the world, carved out by you in someone else’s body.”
Thomas closed his eyes. He could feel the ripples of fear waving amongst the men. “For the little I know of the destruction of Charles Town, I know it is a crime. When faced with these crimes, reason has two options: to search for their cause or to apply consequences in the form of punishment,” Thomas said. “But as I’ve come to understand in recent years, we often choose to do neither: we cast away. We ignore. We bury. Thinking that criminals are so flawed that they will wither and die at the edges of our minds, far from the eyes and from the earth.”
Paul had a bitter smile. “And the crimes never stop. People don’t stop dying.”
With the bearing of someone used to public speaking, if perhaps long ago, with a tinge of resignation to his voice, Thomas said, “Of course. Casting people away, we tell them that crimes are the only thing we accept from them. That it is the only thing they are to us. And their crime becomes a strange object: both a lie and a truth, both a necessity and an impossibility.” His eyes were lost in the fire. “We are the cowards, Paul. You and I, for our lack of choice.”
Seconds passed, as Paul seemed to rummage through his mind for an answer. “You and your men can leave, if you want,” Silver said. “Tomorrow, by nightfall, I’ll deliver Mr. Hamilton unharmed on the north shore of the island. A boat will wait for us there, aboard which you’ll be welcome if you so like.”
Paul nodded and got to his feet, briskly. He eyed Thomas Hamilton. “You shouldn’t trust him.”
Thomas shook his head slowly. “Mr. Silver seems to have a keen understanding of the relevant parts of truths and lies that shape our actions,” he said, Silver’s eyes on him. “It’s a kind of righteousness, if nothing else.”
The guard grasped the bottle of rum and wandered outside.
Ten days earlier
With Thomas gone, Flint found himself floating again, and living in the shades. Sometimes he woke and felt as if half of himself was James Flint and the other James McGraw. The sentiment left him nervous and expectant.
Thomas would be gone during at least three weeks. He had hoped it would be long enough. As it turned out, things set themselves in motion almost entirely on their own.
It took him three days of dedicated observation during transport and field work to map the plantation in his mind – the barracks, the roads, the main house, the mills, the barns. Then, he got started on the guards’ watches and patrols. The recent reinforcements had first disrupted the former routine, but they were soon integrated into the shifts.
Another prisoner approached him on one morning. Flint stripped stalks of cane with two other men, while his eyes were attached to the shift-change of noon – about a quarter of an hour late, if the church bells ringing in the distance were a good indication – of the two guards watching over them.
The broad-shouldered, dark-haired man – a Catholic convert, from Manchester, who thought that his university chair would shield him from Westminster’s reach – leaned towards him. “What is it like? Being a pirate?”
Flint peeled more green from the cane stalk between his hands, and put it in the pile with others. “One can only discover the role by playing it. At first, I thought it was essentially being a sailor. Then it came to me that it was also being a merchant,” he said. “Finally, it dawned on me that it could mean being a leader of men.”
“Does it mean you know how to fight?”
Flint grinned. “Many men know how to fight. But, yes, it does require a certain amount of training in techniques and strategy.”
The other man paused his work and eyed the dull blade with which they prepared the stalks for the mill. “Then why haven’t you fought things here?” he asked, in a low voice.
A quick glance told Flint that the guards hadn’t heard him, that they probably weren’t listening. And were no doubt more worried about the recent Spanish incursions. “It didn’t seem wise, at the time,” he said. “It still doesn’t.”
“Well,” Flint started. “If you want to fight, you need a clear mental image of the battle field. That, I’ve got. Then, you’d need to time the guards’ shifts, and ideally their routes. Then check these timings.” He dropped his voice. “I’m working on that.”
The third man working on their pile of cane didn’t raise his eyes to meet theirs. He spoke in a low, controlled voice. “Behind us, the one of the left is named Everton. He lives near the sea, he has three sons and a young mistress. He enjoys his work, but has a tired back. The one on the right is called Vaillant. He was born way up the Mississippi River to a Sioux mother and a French soldier. He misses his home and doesn’t talk much.”
“You talk to them often?” Flint asked.
“They have instructions not to talk with us,” the third man said. “But I’ve been here 16 years. And I have a good ear.”
“What’s your name?” Flint said.
“David,” the man said. “David Pew.”
Flint’s eyes were attached to the man’s face, yet Pew didn’t look at him. His eyes were down on his work, but they were not staring at the stalk he was working on. They looked only a few inches beyond it, at nothing in particular in the pile of stripped, green cane.
“You can’t see,” Flint said, with a huff of surprise. “I hadn’t even noticed.”
Pew smiled, a brief show of teeth. He was in his late thirties, Flint assessed, so he had spent most of his adult life here, become a man here. “As I’ve said – always had a good ear.”
Flint nodded, prudent, if curious. “What else have you heard, Pew?”
After the meal, Thomas left the main room of the house, only to find that most of the other rooms had been destroyed in the fire. All that was left were licks of soot on the stone walls. He tried to picture Miranda here. He tried to picture Miranda and James here, because they would have been together. But he didn’t manage to see anything. The past remained blurry. He had seen more of it in James’ eyes than he did here.
Silver’s voice came from behind him. Either Thomas had been deeper into his thoughts than he had believed, or the one-legged pirate could be silent when he wanted to. “I only met her briefly. But she seemed brave.”
“She was,” Thomas said. “Braver and stronger than women are commonly allowed to be. Freer in mind and in actions than many of us, and willing to go farther to protect that freedom than most would.”
The pirate stood in a doorway, around which the walls had crumbled down. He was framed in cindery wood. “You’re something yourself.”
Thomas huffed gently. “Am I now?”
Silver shifted on his crutch, and eyed his surroundings. “What I do,” he began, “When I talk to men. I mean to sway them in a direction that I believe is the best for them. My words gain reality as they are heard by them. Their believing amplifies and swells to become real in their own eyes.” Silver paused to frown, smiling, as if amazed still by the effects he created in the world. “And this is how you change the world. But you… Your words aren’t just words. They are not the words that need be said to reach an end.”
The wall behind them was but a pile of rubble and stones, with weeds growing in between them. Beyond that, a small fortress of woods, and the nameless flutter of wind in the leaves. “All words are but tools. Mine are no different.”
“Oh they are this, but much more too,” Silver agreed, joining him to look out at the obscurity outside. “What you did with Paul... You reached into the man, pulled the truth out of his chest and explored it with his accord, until he couldn’t bear to breathe the same air as you.”
“And you know what these truths have done for me, when I needed them most? When they came to arrest me?” Thomas couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice. “Nothing. Nothing at all. James would’ve fought. He might even have made them kill him, only for the satisfaction of having exposed their cruelty.” Thomas turned towards him. Just as had the firelight, the moon reflected on the pirate’s earring, the curls of his hair, the lock of the pistol at his belt, the skin of his hands, as if he was entirely made of metal or water. “You said it yourself, and you were right,” Thomas said. “My island. My war. My years of suffering. Miranda dead. James marked with what he was inflicted and himself inflicted.”
“An entire civilization has fallen ill. The wars and revolts are its fevers. The excesses of its kings and queens are its delirium. Your imprisonment, Nassau, Captain Flint – was an abscess. Painful, localized, simple to remedy, but deadly if let to fester.” Silver chuckled lightly, and the tone of his voice changed. “See? I could have said those exact same words a year ago and not meant them. But they would have come out of my mouth and had their effect just the same.”
“I believe them.”
Silver stepped back, to lean against the timber of a wall and rest his leg. “James told me something, before I left,” Thomas said. He tilted his head, turned to face Silver, uncertainty on his face. “I understood the words, but I’m not certain they were addressed entirely to me.”
“What were they?”
“That hopefully, when I returned, things at the plantation may have moved to another state,” Thomas said. Going still, Silver seemed to ponder something. An expression crossed his face, and he seemed shocked and bare, at the same time. Then it was gone. “Does it mean anything to you?” Thomas asked.
The pirate turned to leave. “I don’t yet know,” he said.
They slept on the wooden floor of Mrs. Barlow's house. Silver waited until the men were asleep. The angered guard – Paul – had apparently decided to spend the night on the grass outside, having emptied the bottle of rum. Jeremiah was on the porch, sitting and feigning sleep, watching him.
Once Thomas’ breathing had finally become even, Silver went to Euripides and woke him. “Go back to Nassau, as quickly as you can manage,” he said, under his breath. “On the beach, you’ll find Captain Caroll’s camp. His men commonly trade with the port of Savannah. Rouse them from whatever liquor or woman they are slumbering with. And ask them if the sugar from Mr. Oglethorpe’s plantation was on time, and in the same amount. Any detail, any disruption they’ll have noticed.” The taller man nodded dutifully. “Be back here by dawn, if you can.”
The maroon left and Silver settled by the smoldering fire.
He thought of the map now in the pocket of his coat. He could feel the fold of the paper through his shirt. It was hard to believe all Flint had wanted was to give him this, even if he did understand the weight that island and its treasure bore.
He sat and tilted his head back. Above him was a chunk of starred night-sky and the remnants of a roof. It had been a long time since he had done it, and it was harder doing it with Flint absent, but Silver closed his eyes, and tried to find his way again to the darkness of James Flint’s mind.
No matter how he conjured, nothing came.
Five days earlier
After the chores were done in the fields, the workers could as they pleased as long as they remained confined in their lodgings. In the past days, since Thomas Hamilton’s departure, they had taken to listen to James McGraw’s stories. He had been vague about how he knew them. He had told some of the other prisoners that he had encountered pirates, that he had known some of them. But rapidly, as fire rampaging through dry grass, it spread that he could very well be Captain Flint himself.
“Captain Flint died,” he said, to the two dozen men assembled around him in their barrack. “Not far from here. After the betrayal of his crew, he left piracy behind. Retired from the account, as it is said.”
“Did he know Long John Silver?” a man asked.
“It is said he did, yes,” James said. “One of their best-known stories is the pursuit of the Archimedes, a well-armed French merchant vessel. When a ship is pursued by pirates, many tactics are at its captain’s disposal to make his escape,” he began to tell. All members of his audience were grown men. Some were sitting on their beds, some on the ground near the fireplace. Most of them were educated, thanks to England’s care, and the circulation of books was allowed. And still, on most nights, they gathered around him to listen. “He can set sail towards open waters, but the risks of this are many: he can enter another trade territory, happen on yet another pirate vessel, or, more commonly, the merchandise the ship holds can go bad should the detour be too long. This loss can be costly. But there is another strategy. A captain can decide to search for one of the 600 smaller islands of the Caribbean, and play hide-and-seek in its currents, or try to lure the pirate ship to a nearby shoal. A most popular place to do this was the island of Heneago, one hundred miles off the coasts of Tortuga…” Flint paused.
The two guards posted outside were at the door of the barrack, as if requesting permission to enter.
“Some distractions are allowed, I think?” James asked. “Stories don’t harm anyone…”
The younger guard – named Edward, Flint now knew, somewhat clumsy, with no affinity for his current position, one of the best candidates to be coaxed into joining them – stepped forward. “We’d just like to lend an ear to the story, in fact,” he said. “We can’t hear well from outside.”
James gave a curt bow, and gestured to the chairs lined under the windows. “Take a seat then,” he said. The guards did so. “Now, Heneago was mostly deserted, flat land, open to terrible storms. Some pirates used it as a cache for rum, powder or supplies, but it was widely known for its coral reefs. They punctured its shores, creating perilous passages for ships, and were, in certain precise weather conditions, when the sea was calm and the sky was clouded, almost impossible to see, even for a practiced look-out…”
The story went on. When he had started, most of what he had said was embellished truth. Now, little of what he said was true at all. But what mattered, he had taken, was to make exist in the minds of these men, an ideal space of total freedom, functional, organized, only violent enough to seem wild, but wild enough to have all the appearance of a better life.
Almost none of the men here desired to leave. This, he had soon figured out. They esteemed themselves protected. The distinction between the plantation and their previous prison was so sharp that they had grown to think they had a good life. And – Flint knew that in the fathoms of his head – in many ways they did. But perhaps, they only needed to be shown a life in comparison with which their current situation would look as dire as the dungeons of England… And perhaps then…
“Yes. What then?” Silver said. The audience was gone. Silver sat on one bed, and Flint was on the other, facing him.
Flint looked away. “They really do like the stories,” James pointed out.
Silver nodded. “They do. But everyone does. They soothe, they excite, they torture,” he said. “You got good at it.”
Flint smiled. “I actually frequently listened to your own retelling of various exploits.”
“I wonder,” Silver said, after a moment. “What else you’ll take from me. You put the island, the treasure, in my head, to free yours. Then you took the stories. But that’s not enough is it?”
Looking up sternly, Flint found Silver’s clear-blue eyes. “You were committed to Captain Flint's death. Up to now, that death has been easy and quiet. But there will be things needing to be done, if Flint has to die. For all of us.”
“Can you exist as anything else than a burden of necessities? Or do you feel like you’ll fade if you don’t?” Silver asked, almost incredulous.
On the next morning, one of the prisoners showed James the key to the chains, which he had lifted from the belt one of the guards had taken off to listen more comfortably.
Flint took the key and hugged it in the palm of his hand for a while. He thought that it was how it began again, as if it would always begin again, every day, everywhere.
His body felt tired, aching with age and fights. For the briefest instant, he wished he could share with Thomas this apprehension, this tense wait for the battle to unfold. But he opened his eyes to the world again, and he knew that there were things he did not want Thomas seeing.
I apologize for the long wait, but PLOT happened. I also apologize for how long this is. I had to tweak the timeline as well, I hope it worked somewhat. The last chapter should be of a similar size too and come in a few weeks. -- All the love.
Chapter 6: 6.
Content warning for some violence and gore.
Three days earlier
They managed to sway three guards. It was much less than Flint had thought they could. Pew’s information made it likely that four more might be on their side.
In the barracks, they gathered a little before dawn.
It had taken his fellow residents here more time to get used to the idea that they could control their own fate than to accept the idea that they would very likely kill someone today. A few days ago, they were placid, if maybe not happy. Now most of them had knives.
And the sky above was as blue as the one over Nassau. And James McGraw’s body was still James Flint’s body.
“Why the head wraps?” one of the men asked him.
Flint paused and adjusted the material over his head. They had torn the sheets of their straw mattresses to make them. “At first, it was to avoid recognition by English officials, militias and magistrates,” he explained. “Then it became a matter of publicity. Other crews imitated us. It spread fast, as terror is keen to do.”
Tim, a man in his early twenties, and one of the last one to arrive before James had come, said, “Everyone knows us here. Oglethorpe and his men can probably tell us apart by voice only.”
Pew spoke from where he sat, shifting his cane from one hand to another. “It’s for the fear,” he said. “It’s scary to see that people you thought you knew are something else.”
James looked up at the blind man, his open eyes turned to the ceiling above. “True,” he said.
Minutes later only, two bright horizontal rays of sun cut through the window, red and bleeding. Flint told them it was time to go. They were led outside by one of the guards who had agreed with their plan.
As he was about to leave the barracks, clutching the small knife in his palm, James heard him. “Does he know about the war?” Silver said. Flint turned to him. Silver sat on a bed, cross-legged. He had his disarrayed hair, and his clean-shaven face, and both legs. “Thomas? I mean to say – does he know how much you like it?”
Undoing the bottom of the head wrap to uncover his mouth, James said, “Some things don’t have to be spoken.”
“Eventually, one does have to acknowledge what they’re not speaking of. And what is held inside and outside of that boundary.”
James looked away. “I can remember you without your leg,” he said to Silver, who sat cross-legged still, on the bed, weightless as if floating in water. “I thought I couldn’t.”
Silver’s brow furrowed, and James didn’t remember how puzzled it looked without the long hair and beard. “In the memories I keep of you, you’re always missing parts,” Silver said.
Flint nodded, and walked out in the brightness of dawn. The others had gathered near the cane field, where they would be hidden by the tall stalks. They were lined up as if waiting for the carriage to take them to the mill. The three guards were dressed down, as the workers were. Flint eyed the rising sun: maybe still fifteen minutes before two more guards would come around the bend in the path to take their shifts.
Pew waited at a distance from the others, standing back, both hands gripping his walking stick. He hadn’t taken a knife with him, even if Flint had insisted. He said he could use his cane, if need be. All had agreed that he wouldn’t fight.
“You know what you look like to me?” Pew said, as Flint passed him.
Flint huffed. “What do I look like… to a blind man?” he said.
Pew smiled. It was a crooked smile, wide. It was not trusting, but confident. “Like a man who needs a ghost.”
At the far end of the field, a horse neighed in the distance. Flint walked to the head of the column of men and braced himself, digging his heels in the soft earth. Even with Pew’s eyes attached to the ground, at the end of the column, Flint felt as if he was watched. He made note to ask Thomas about David Pew.
His sleep had been forever altered by the loss of his leg. The first days, he didn’t remember at all, except flashes of a window, a cup of water, the sea outside, the breeze in the cabin, the Captain’s cabin, and he always fell back into the opium wondering where he was and what was going on and why would he feel so limp and weary. And every time, his memory found the reason – the leg, the ax, the leg, the keys at the man’s belt, the ax again – just when he went back under.
Then things became a bit clearer. After a few months, however, it had become evident that the option of any rest deeper than slumber had been removed from him. Some nights, it felt like no sleeping at all, but like a state of perpetual waking, as if his thoughts were fishes, skimming the surface, not daring to come out, and never plunging deeper.
But it had never prejudiced him.
And he was very thankful for it now, when he felt the attack from the secret depths of his severed muscles.
His eyes opened quickly enough to glimpse Paul, the guard from the Savannah plantation, about to crush Silver’s neck under his boot.
Silver rolled on his side, one hand going for the pistol on his chest, the other reaching for his crutch.
Paul’s next stomp caught his shoulder. His yell and Paul’s grunts woke Thomas Hamilton and the other two guards.
He swung his good leg upward and twined it into Paul’s ankles. They both fell on the ground beside the dead embers of the fireplace. Silver managed to free the one hand that held his pistol and fired a shot. It grazed the other man’s ear.
One of the other two guards was scrambling for his pistol. Not to assist him, Silver assumed.
Paul still had some rum in his body, Silver supposed. He took advantage of that and managed to land his fist into Paul’s ribcage – once, twice, thrice – and felt a rush of bright, bloody joy when he sensed something breaking. The pain surprised the guard and it gave Silver the occasion to get a full hold of his crutch.
In a swift move, he placed the shoulder rest on Paul’s throat and pressed down enough to cut off his air.
And all stilled again in the morning.
Both Silver and Paul were panting, the guard with a wheezing sound. Silver had slid atop Paul, resting on his kneeled good leg and his stump on the stone ground. It hurt like hell, and so did his shoulder, and his jaw, where the guard had hit him, near the ear.
Silver knew that there was at least one pistol pointed at him, the guard holding it still too petrified to formulate anything. But where was the other guard?
Pressing the wood firmer into Paul’s neck, Silver looked away from him for a second. His eyes searched the room. One pistol and one shaky guard, he could deal with. But not two.
And then he saw that the other guard’s pistol was out of its holster and into Thomas Hamilton’s hand, pointed at the guard aiming at Silver.
Silver gave a short sigh of relief. “Good,” he said, his breath still rough. “Now, we know where we all stand.”
Paul smirked. “Shoot him,” he said, wheezing, to the other guard.
“Please don’t do that,” Thomas Hamilton said, grip tightening on the pistol pointed at the guard.
Paul huffed. “He won’t do it, Simon. Shoot…”
Silver glanced back at Thomas. And he knew that Paul was right.
He understood it at the exact same moment when he understood what it was that James Flint, from far away within the Savannah plantation, had planned for Silver when he had sent Thomas Hamilton in Nassau. There were some things, Silver knew, that Thomas Hamilton wouldn’t do. And there were some things, too, that Flint didn’t want him to see. The murder, the spilled blood, the sickening violence of revolutions.
Silver knew that it was his to show these to Thomas then. He cursed Flint, again. And, then, all in the same widening instant, he became himself, thanks to Flint, again.
He took a moment to consider his options. But his body had put things in motion before he was done thinking.
He drove a kick into the black coals of the fire, sending them flying in the other guard’s face. And then he raised the crutch in the air above Paul’s neck and he brought it down, as strongly as he could. And he did it again.
And again, and again.
Fighting had always gone like blood through James McGraw’s body. Invisible, beating and warm. This hadn’t changed in Flint. This could have been different. Eventually – every time, James thought about it, maybe hoped for it – it would change. He would age, he would become tired, perhaps, or less desperate.
And there was Thomas now. Once more. Forever.
It was the thought that circled his head when he held a guard’s neck in the crook of his elbow. The guard struggled at first, and Flint, looking at the blue sky above, was thinking of Thomas. The guard could have fought. He could reach for his sword. He could still not pass out. He could still kill him.
Yet James was unchanged. He was fighting.
The first group of guards that they met were caught by surprise. They had pistols and swords on them, so that now a handful of them had weapons.
As they approached Oglethorpe’s house, it became harder. Word had spread. The plantation militia was already twitchy, watching out for the Spanish soldiers.
Flint saw at least one man die, shot in the neck.
From time to time, he lost track of Pew. The blind man followed them closely and searched the bodies of the guards that they left in their wake.
In one day, it was done. The mansion was almost undefended when they got there.
Oglethorpe waited for them in the staircase that led upstairs. He seemed to know what had happened. His face bore no specific gravity, nor a sense of tragedy, or the fear of those that ignore their fate. It was a dubious smile and an arched eyebrow that awaited Flint and the two other prisoners that walked in. The few servants there had no doubt received the order to stand down, and were holding their hands, palm outwards, before them. All of them were black.
In the hall of the mansion, Flint’s heart tightened at the thought of Madi. He didn’t know what had become of her – and of her and Silver in fact – and she was now only a distant image, somewhat like her mother.
“Joseph, Aegidius,” Oglethorpe greeted the two men. “And James Flint.”
Flint gave a curt nod, wiping his sword on his pant leg. “Things…” he said, taking his eyes around the room. Thick curtains were drawn over all the windows, letting only slivers of light in. “Things are going to have to change here,” he finished, moving up the stairs, letting his fingers trail on the smooth cherry ramp.
Oglethorpe nodded, and opened his mouth to reply.
“Are they yours?” Flint cut him short. “The slaves. Are they yours?”
Flint turned around. He spoke loudly and clearly. “You are no longer slaves. Those of you who want to leave may do so. Those of you who want to stay may also do that. If you do, you will earn your wages and share the work with us all.”
With Joseph and Aegidius, he followed Oglethorpe in his small office. Here too, all was dark. The plantation owner took off his wig, set it down on his desk and offered them brandy. They said no. Joseph was a young man still, and he now had a scar on his cheek and a gash on his right arm. Aegidius was unscathed, but his knife had gone through a guard’s stomach, easy and soft, and his face was still pale with the memory of it.
“He warned me about you,” Oglethorpe told Flint. “The tall, red-haired man who brought you here.”
“Israel Hands,” Flint said. “We’re not fond of each other.”
“He was right,” Oglethorpe said, cradling his glass in the palm of his hand. “How many dead?”
“Four,” Flint said. “They fought bravely, they were very loyal to you. They still are.”
Oglethorpe huffed. He reminded Flint of a peacock, engorged and vain, with something fadedly royal about him. “Men for whom one provides shelter and protection are usually loyal, yes,” he said, eyeing Joseph and Aegidius, pointedly.
“I know,” Flint replied. “I provided that too.” He stepped forward and placed his sword down, tipped against an armchair. He had no scabbard for it, and he missed the touch of it against his leg. “And I’ll keep doing that. Only it’ll be on slightly different terms.”
Oglethorpe nodded pensively. “And how many workers dead? Or are they yours and no longer mine now, and therefore not mine to ask about?”
Flint let a moment pass. “Two. Plus one wounded.”
Downing the rest of his brandy, Oglethorpe tapped the glass on the wood. “One request, if I may?” Flint nodded yes. “Can I have a loaded pistol and a few minutes alone?”
“I have no intention of killing you, or causing you any other suffering,” Flint said. “Also there is no need to wish to prevent it by your own hand.”
“This is my work,” Oglethorpe said, arms outstretched at his sides, showing the dark walls around him, the house, and the plantation around and beyond it. “How is it not harming me to pry it from me?”
Flint eyed the man before him. “Alright,” he said. He turned around. “Joseph. Your pistol?” He gave Oglethorpe the pistol and then stood back. “I’ll leave you an hour. You won’t be disturbed,” he said. “Please. Don’t do it.”
They left Oglethorpe alone and returned downstairs.
Many workers had begun to gather in the hall. The slaves were grouped outside, talking. And ten more guards were brought from the southern edge of the plantation, their hands bound.
An hour later, when no shots had been fired, Flint went back upstairs. He found Oglethorpe sitting by the window. The pistol was on the desk, untouched. “How do you intend to proceed, from now on? Do you intend to govern this place? Defend it?”
Flint had a sad smile, because that much he knew now, even if it still felt like a truth too far buried. “I lead battles, it’s what I do. And defense, yes, I can provide,” he said. “But I don’t govern. Although I do intend for someone to do that.”
And again and again and again. Until Paul’s neck was so soft as to feel liquid, and the skin as dark as the ground underneath as the burnt wood soaked up the blood.
Silver was panting. His face burned with the effort and the fog that killing someone felt like. It was like the truest, darkest moment of a spectacle. An argument more convincing than any other. I cannot be lying, it said, because I killed to make you believe in me. I cannot be otherwise than I say, it said, because I killed to become that man.
And he knew exactly, he thought as he got up, what he was in this moment. He was Captain Flint’s war, and he needed to show it to Thomas Hamilton. Back on his feet, he found the guard, Simon, before him, aiming the pistol less than one foot from his face. It was shaking, in time with the man’s labored breathing. The guard could not take his eyes off Paul’s body.
Silver didn’t hesitate. He didn’t even think. He reached for the pistol that Thomas Hamilton had lowered, took it, pointed it at the guard and pulled the trigger.
Simon’s body dropped to the ground. Silver leaned against the table, and took a moment to regain his breath. He reached in his coat pocket, took a bullet and some primer out and loaded the pistol again. Then he blew in the mouth to take out as much powder and dust he could, then he aimed at the other guard.
This one had retreated to the far end of the room.
“Stop,” Thomas said. “Please stop.” Over time, Silver had seen faces take on all kinds of expressions when death happened before or around them. Thomas’ face was taut, his brow furrowed, not as much scared, or revolted, as dazzled.
“This is what he wanted,” Silver said. The pistol was still on the guard. The house was growing silent now, except for Silver’s ragged breathing. “This is what you were meant to see.”
Thomas huffed. “How can you know that?”
“It’s a great relief, to finally know exactly what role is ours. How circumstances have disposed us,” Silver said. “And he has always done that for me.”
“Let him go.”
Silver dropped the pistol. Not because Thomas was persuasive, but because the moment had passed, and his mind had begun to come to what he was doing. And death needed to be blunt and sharp. Not quite a decision, not quite a thought, but halfway between an act and a feeling.
The guard eyed them both, trembling. Then he ran out the door, as fast as he could. Soon, he was gone in the night.
For a time, Silver thought he could just stop and let the world breathe around him. Killing gave him that - the possibility to stand at the center of himself and watch as the stars revolved around him.
Silver went outside. Jeremiah was dead, his throat slit by Paul in the night.
Wordlessly, Thomas Hamilton took the two bodies from the house, and then Jeremiah’s.
Silver watched him carry them on the grass, struggling with the unexpected weight, the one that was greater than stones, as heavy as a life ending as it sank in the sea. He circled the house and, behindit, in the burnt remnants of a wooden shed, he found a shovel.
“I did not want this,” Flint said. He stood near a wild bush of roses. He seemed to shine, and Silver knew that he had found it again. His mind, Flint’s mind. And he had not expected that, but it felt good, like an immense wave. Like his self was once more aligned with the shape of him.
“A little bit,” Silver said. “You wanted it a little bit. With the heart that is buried so deep within you, that whenever it beats, you think it a monster coming to life.”
“Hearts are monsters, sometimes. To some of us.”
The shovel was old, its staff sodden. The shed reeked of mold. “I don’t really remember at what moment it became clear to me, but it eventually did,” Silver started. “That I would take it as my task to be this monster, so that you could have your heart.”
Flint’s image seemed pale, and paler, almost translucent. Tears had formed in his eyes and nested there. “I did not want this,” he repeated.
Silver hopped back around the house, the shovel tucked under his arm.
The sun had risen, and soon Euripides returned.
Thomas had begun to dig the graves.
His eyes were set on the bodies, but not really seeing them, as if they were no longer bodies but only memories of the violence that had just changed them, taken them swiftly from being into not being. He had not looked at Silver since the fight.
Euripides’ eyes went to Jeremiah’s body. Then to the two other bodies. Then to Thomas. “Captain Caroll’s men have not reported anything out of the ordinary from Savannah,” he said to Silver. “But I found a man who had just arrived from Florida. There it was said that a Savannah estate had liberated its slaves.”
“When?” Silver said.
“Less than three days ago.”
When they arrived in Savannah, they headed for a small bay, north of the main port, far from the city. The launch was readied. On the way to the beach, Silver tried to think. Flint had dimmed, and he seemed almost entirely drawn inside, as if he had receded.
They secured the longboat and stepped onto the wet sand. Hands walked ahead of them.
“I don’t know if I can love someone, the way you loved Thomas,” Silver said.
Flint looked at something, halfway between their ship and the placid horizon. “This thing, now, that binds me to Thomas, I fear it is much greater than love,” he said. “And one day, perhaps years from now, I will say that I have loved you.”
“To whom will you say that?”
Flint stopped. They were about to walk onto land. There was a hill of grass and torn trees. Israel Hands was waiting for them. “To myself, maybe,” Flint said. He turned around and squinted as he eyed the ship. “How long do you think before I see a ship again?”
“Might be years,” Silver said.
Flint nodded. “Good.”
As soon as the bodies were in the ground, they left Mrs. Barlow’s house. The sun was high again. Silver and Euripides agreed to travel swiftly and discreetly, in case the escaped guard were to return. They took their horses through the small paths opened by escaped slaves in the woods.
Euripides went first. In his hand, clutched tightly, he held one of Jeremiah’s bracelets, the one with red pearls and a crook of amber.
After, came Thomas and Silver. There had hardly been any words spoken between them.
When they got out of the woods and could lay eyes on the nearby ocean, Silver said, “I didn’t think it would go like this.”
Thomas was staring ahead. “Neither did I,” he said quietly.
“Today was not the first day you saw a man die,” Silver said. “You have known the prisons of England. You have lost as much as can be lost by anyone.”
“I have seen men put to choice between their heart and their mind. Follow the first, and you were beaten and tortured until you lost the second. Follow the second, and ignore what the first told you, causing only suffering to keep reason company,” Thomas said. He turned then, to look at Silver. His face had not changed, but Silver wasn’t certain that such a change would be visible on the surface. “And I don’t believe that James wished for you to show me murder and death.”
Silver stilled his horse. “If not that, then what?”
“He wanted me to see how well you knew him.”
They were in the room Thomas used as his office and library. London was rainy and cloaked. They discussed poverty, and how, even in such a small and overabundant island as the one of New Providence, it held people in its grasp. James listened, and opposed some defenses, mostly because he knew Thomas enjoyed to test his views. But his mind was absent. Thomas had noticed it, silently, with a frown, and had not mentioned it.
It was only when the evening had progressed into night that he asked him. James was about to take his leave. “Are you going to tell me? Or will you leave me to guess?”
James quirked a polite eyebrow. “Tell you what, Thomas?”
Stepping back from his desk, Thomas straightened the jacket he had just slipped back on. “You have been preoccupied since coming here. The points you bring are fair, but rhetorical,” he said. Then he cast his eyes down. “You keep your hands back and at your side, perhaps thinking I will not notice that your knuckles are scorched and wounded.”
Huffing quietly, James brought his hands up and balled his right one into a fist. The pain was no longer as much in his bones and skin, as it was in a much deeper part of his chest. “I did not avoid mentioning it because it matters, but because it does not.” He met Thomas’ eyes briefly. “A tavern brawl is what it was.”
Opposite him, Thomas had a light smile that kindly masked disbelief. Then, his eyes shifted to vague puzzlement. “I treasure your honesty, James. In fact, since we have encountered each other, I am quite certain you have never lied to me,” he said. “Or disguised the truth.”
James stiffened. “Sometimes, the truth is blunt, and reporting it is a violence of its own, in the guise of clarity.”
“Is it?” Thomas moved forward. “Some of your colleagues from the Navy?” James nodded. “About your appointment here?” Another nod. “About the favors you could gain through my position in the Chamber?”
James closed his eyes, ran his left thumb over the knuckles of his right hand. “Something like that. Much cruder,” he said. “If I could ask you not to insist on the matter…” he started.
Thomas’ face had become shadowed with concern. He stepped closer yet and took James’ injured hand, inspecting the bruises there, dark, beneath the webs left into the skin by washed blood. James examined his face.
After a moment, Thomas let his hand go and James turned to leave.
“James?” Thomas said. “Whoever they were precisely and whatever exactly it was about – did you get them?”
At the door, James grinned. “Oh yes, I did.”
Once the door to the Hamiltons’ residence had closed behind him, he paused and felt the scars on his hand. There was a secret pride in him, as well as, still, days later, the thundering rage he had felt at the insult. There had been a second during which he had believed that, in killing this other officer, he would remove the affront from the world, restore some justice. As if things were becoming purer with blood. Some part of him clung to that feeling.
For a while, they stayed there, on their horses, facing the ocean.
“I’d like to tell you a story,” Silver said. “If that’s alright.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Thomas said.
“It’s the first lie I ever told about myself,” Silver said. “There is something precious to it. A kind of awkwardness, as if my mind didn’t yet know under what guise to hide.” He tugged at the reins gently, and their horses began to move along the path down to the beach. “Who knows? It could even be the truth.”
“You don’t seem to be a man whose story is his truth,” Thomas said.
“And if truth does not reside in stories, where does it live?” Silver said. Thomas turned away again.
The sun had started to come down. Euripides signalled the ship, and a boat was put to sea.
On the beach, Silver told the story of a Bristol boy who had found his mother beaten nearly to death by his father, who had then found his father and killed him, even as young as he was, and whose mother had then shunned him and sold him as a ship’s boy. Thomas listened.
They left John Silver on the shores of New Providence island. Euripides stayed with Thomas on the ship until they sighted the coasts of Florida, then he took a longboat to sea and left. Thomas eyed the white triangle of the boat’s sail as it disappeared in a mix of waves and angled sunlight near the horizon.
The ship stayed away from the port of Savannah and sent Thomas back to land in a launch. He landed on a beach. The ship’s Captain had left him money to buy a horse, and he returned to the plantation. At first, he rode the horse calmly, but the closer he got, the harder it became in his mind to see James again as he had last seen him, in the pale uniform of the cane cutters, with some scars faded on his skin, some more than others. He brought the horse to a gallop.
Now, it was difficult to disentangle James’ image from John Silver’s, not as if they were the same man, but as if they were now some parts of James that he was blind to, because only Silver had seen them. Thomas had thought, when he had first begun to be aware of this, that it would bother him, that he would eventually fear that James would take, unbeknownst to him, another shape under his very eyes.
By the time the houses of Oglethorpe’s estate began to appear on the horizon, Thomas was thinking of James as some pieces of shadow strewn together. Undone first, no doubt, by the events of 1705 in London, and put back together by John Silver, perhaps using figments of his own self for it.
He finally reached the plantation.
Of course, he knew that things must have changed. Silver had been certain that these changes wouldn’t have been without violence. To an extent, but to an extent only, Thomas believed him.
But he had not expected what he found at the gates.
The doors were commonly guarded by two men, and at least one of them with a pistol. At the noise of Thomas’ horse, two men came about. Thomas knew them. Both of them workers.
“Thomas,” the first greeted him.
“Julian,” Thomas said, quietly. He had expected a change that he would have seen coming. That he would have seen in his mind, or anticipated. But he did not expect to see Julian, who was afraid of the cutlass, holding a sword and a pistol, with a long scar on his shoulder. “What happened?”
Julian eyed Thomas. His hands were still dirty from the grave digging, even after the days on the ship, and his clothes rumpled. “What happened to your escort?”
“Two of them are dead. The third was left on the island of New Providence,” Thomas said. “Pirates returned me here.” He got down from his horse, and repeated, “What happened?”
“James Flint taught us how to fight,” Joseph, the second man, also young, also scarred, said. His pale blond hair had a strange light in the ending day.
Thomas huffed. “Did he?” Both younger men before him gave a curt nod, Julian’s hand tightening on his sword.
He followed Joseph inside, thinking that this may very well be his life now. Swords, pistols, blood, powder.
On the way to the mansion, he saw workers lined up by a cane field, while two no doubt former slaves, showed them how to spot the snakes’ nest in the ground, and how to kill them, with a sharp, small blade, in the back of their neck.
All the faces, he knew. But there was something different in the air. He didn’t know if this thing was freedom, or happiness: it seemed boiling and hurried, but suspended. People milled about, some apparently still aimless, some with fiercer looks about them.
The mansion was clearer, the blinds had been opened, and the friends that Oglethorpe usually had there, for salons not unlike the ones Thomas held in London, were gone. On the first floor, the large dining room had been turned into a strategic council: maps had been rolled out on the long table, and in a corner there was a stash of guns.
James was in the next room. Thomas eyed him from the door, in the pale clothes not quite fitting to his frame, but dashed with blood now, a deep brown even after a wash or two. Oglethorpe was with him, talking with two grey-haired black men about the Southern mill.
Once his eyes stopped on him, James left the other men and walked to Thomas.
Outside the room, they hugged fiercely in the light of the window that shone on them.
Thomas’ chest ached still, just as the first time. He stepped back, kissed James and eyed him again. “It’s still the same,” he said.
“Of course, I am,” James said.
Thomas shook his head. “No. This,” he said, grasping James’s arms tightly. “This. Finding you again. It still takes my breath, my mind.”
His eyes glimmering in the sun, James turned away. His hands tightened on Thomas’ neck, at his waist.
“How long ago has all this happened?” Thomas asked after a moment.
“Four days today. We’re still figuring some things out.” He pointed at the door to the room where Oglethorpe’s voice could still be heard. “A handful of guards managed to barricade themselves in the mill in the South field.”
“What is your plan?”
They had begun to pace slowly in the corridor, side by side. James stopped. “What would yours be?”
Thomas quirked an eyebrow. “Assure them they won’t be harmed. Insist if they doubt it. Let them come out of the mill on their own: they have water, but no food. Unless they are inclined to chewing cane.”
James nodded. “In a day, two at most, they’ll be out.”
“Had you planned otherwise?” Thomas asked.
James smiled. “I was not being consulted on the matter,” he said. “We were waiting for you.”
“This is for me, isn’t it?” Thomas asked. “A realm of our own, with me to lead it?”
“Small realm,” James said. “I suggested burning down the field East of this house here, to build some houses there. The men don’t want to sleep in the barracks anymore, and there are not enough rooms in this house for all of us.” James looked up at Thomas. “And maybe one day – roads, access to the bay...”
“A small town,” Thomas said, a disbelieving smile tugging at his lips.
“Home,” James said.
For a moment, they stayed still, with the echoes of voices around them, throughout the house, with the sunlight on their backs. “There will be an election,” James said, finally. “I talked the men into it. There’s no talking them out of it now.”
“They should have a say. You offered them the opportunity to leave?” Thomas said.
“Only two said yes.” James frowned. “David Pew was one of them.”
“He fought very bravely, even though I opposed it, and impressively well for a sightless man,” James said. “But there was something odd about him.”
“When I arrived here, I was told that in London, before letting him go, his jailers found him so treacherous, they had burned his eyes to rob him from sight,” Thomas said. “He may very well return. There is little in the world out there for a blind man.”
James nodded. “Most of these men have nothing but the chains they’re bound with…”
“And no one in the world,” Thomas said, eyes on James. They were shining, with some fear, some darkness, and some fibrillation at the sight of a world unknown and hoped for.
Thomas spent the afternoon in discussion with Oglethorpe, while James oversaw the surrender of the guards at the mill. In the evening, they rejoined over a map of the South edge of the plantation, to plan for some fortifications there.
They ate cold ham and poached pears that Serenne, an old servant, brought them from the kitchen, and sat on the windowsill after, a glass of rum in their hands. The candlelight flickered in the breeze that smelled of smoke, carried their way from a nearby plantation.
It was only then that James asked, “What happened to the three guards?”
Thomas waited for a moment, eyes cast into the rum in his hands. “What Mr. Silver thought was what you intended to happen to them,” he said.
James’s brow twitched and he looked away. “It was not my intent. But I knew Silver would protect you, if need be,” he said. “I regret that you had to see that.”
“But I had to see it. A human life trampled out of someone clutching for it,” Thomas said. “The violence. The one that you fear I will loathe in you.”
“I loathe it,” James said, in a whisper.
Thomas covered his hand with his and held it. “Before parting ways with me, John Silver told me a story,” Thomas said. “His story, as he called it.”
His eyes finding Thomas’, James seemed thoughtful. It was some time before he spoke. “He once described it as a tale of unending horrors.”
“It is so.”
“I…” James pulled his hand from Thomas’. “I don’t want to hear it.”
Thomas looked away. “Like Mr. Silver will keep the map for you, I will be the keeper of this, then.”
On the next morning, Oglethorpe found James and Thomas in the same room. He carried a pile of letters with him.
“It’s been five days,” he said. “If I don’t answer, there’ll be questions.” He dropped the bundle of letters down onto the table.
Seated at the table, looking up above the rim of his glasses, Thomas eyed the stack of sealed envelopes that had just interrupted his annotations on the map. “What’s the matter?”
James stepped forward. “This is some of Mr. Oglethorpe’s correspondence with the socialite friends attending his salons.” He looked up at Oglethorpe. “Tell them you’ve taken ill. Are indisposed at the moment.” He sifted absentmindedly through the envelopes, ordering them in a neater stack. One of them, though, caught his attention. He frowned.
“I cannot do so indefinitely, and-…” Oglethorpe started.
“What’s that?” James said, holding out an envelope.
“It’s from a quite young lady. Very lettered. Her ideas are still budding, but some are strong,” Oglethorpe said. “She started coming to me, seeking distractions after her father’s death in the destruction of…” His voice trailed off, James’s eyes not leaving him.
The red-haired man circled the desk and walked to Oglethorpe. “If we are to be working together, I advise that you learn to finish your thoughts.”
“Or, more likely, that you select to start the thoughts that you know you can bring to an end,” Thomas added, looking sternly at the older man in front of him. “And I concur with James: tell them you are indisposed for the next two weeks.”
“And what then?”
“Then, we’ll invite them here. They can witness what reforms effectively look like as well as discuss them, if they so wish,” Thomas said.
Oglethorpe scuffed. “You think this easier than it can be.”
“No,” Thomas said, taking off his glasses. “I think that there is no argument as valid as reality itself. Your friends will come here. They will see what can be done, because they will see what we have done,” Thomas said. “Besides, we will continue to sell them cane and they will continue to buy it, no?”
Oglethorpe’s mouth opened and closed again. He gathered the envelopes in his arms and left.
Thomas turned to James. “Whose letter is that?”
James looked up from the letter he had opened and began to read. “It’s from Abigail Ashe.”
The return to the maroons’ island was steady, the waves ever the same. From time to time, as he watched the horizon that they could never quite reach, Silver placed his hand over his heart, where Avery’s notebook was. He had no idea what he planned to do with it, but it seemed in its right place there.
He arrived at night. The boat docked at the fort, which was well underway.
When he reached Madi’s hut, she was not there. Aya, a young girl, told her there had been a collapse in the caves, that Madi was helping cleaning the rubble to free a passage there.
Silver sat down at Madi’s table. There was a candle, an inkwell, paper, and her books, nearly half of them Flint’s books.
“Are you ever going to tell her?” Flint asked him, sitting down on the chair opposite Silver’s. “That John Silver’s not your real name?”
Silver huffed, slipped the notebook out of his coat. “No. I will try as I may to keep the good things distinct from the bad ones.”
“What makes you think this life here is a good thing?”
Silver closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Flint was gone.
Madi found him like this. His eyes were reddened. She unwrapped the scarf that held her hair up. Her fingernails were dirty, her hands scratched. She sat down.
“Was it him?” she asked.
“It was Thomas Hamilton.”
Madi smiled. Something fond, but still sad. “I only have your words to portray him in my mind. I imagine him great, just, kind,” she said.
Silver nodded, eyes still aching. “He’s a good man,” he said. He seemed to want to say something again, then he turned away and pushed the notebook towards Madi. “Flint wanted to give me the map to where he buried the cache on Skeleton Island. I said no. At first.”
“But then you gave in,” Madi finished.
“It’s yours,” he said.
Madi reached for the notebook, opened it at the marked page, near the end. “So much suffering. So much deaths in vain,” she said, running her fingers over the yellow paper. “And such a tiny thing.” Carefully, she tore the page from the binding.
Then she got up, went to the shelf and searched for a book in particular. She opened it on the first page, slipped the map inside, closed it and put it back on the shelf. “It took me a while to figure out why I wanted this map so badly. I knew I wanted it, but I didn’t know why,” Silver said. “But I figured it out, as things took the right shape.” The hut was filled with silence and the far away cries of parrots in the jungle. “I don’t want you to think that your mother was right. That all you can do is cower and hide.”
Madi paused for a moment, her back to John. She went to the bed, and bent down to pour water from a pitcher into a bowl. She washed some of the dust from her face. “You’re a good man, John Silver,” she said, pensive.
Silver shook his head. “I’m good at war,” he corrected. “If war is needed – if violence and death are needed, I can provide that.”
A soft smile came to Madi’s lips, some distance still into it. “War is always needed. Somewhere.”
Silver huffed and smiled too. Madi took his hand as it rested on his thigh and placed a kiss on the heel of it. Then she put out the candle, and Silver was left in darkness, as she went to bed. As they grew habituated to the obscurity, his eyes searched the shelf before him, until they went up to the one with Woodes Rogers’ book, where Madi had put away the map.
Having placed the quill back in the inkwell, James looked at his signature at the bottom of the letter. James McGraw. The last thing he had put to paper was the map of the island.
“You will not recognize her. She must be a lady now,” he said. “But, in all likelihood, she will recognize you. She recalled Miranda.”
“She reminds you of her,” Thomas said.
“She’s one of the only ones left alive who knew Miranda,” James said. “And I want her to know that not all stories end like Charles Town.”
“At some point, I felt that you were driving us in an abyss. As if literally, the ship, sailing on the ocean, would break the waves and then disappear in a maelstrom that had just opened underneath,” Silver said, hopping down along the path to the Southern mill with James.
“In a certain state, perhaps I saw it like that as well,” Flint said.
“Some times, you seemed keenly aware that you were taking us into a violence so great that it would annihilate us all. And some other times, you spoke of a new world so vividly…” Silver stopped, his dark hair shining in the light. “The men couldn’t tell which was which. What was death and blood, and what was a new, free world. It took me a while to understand that… you couldn’t tell either…”
“The two were so intimately connected. War kept my memory breathing, the new world kept my heart beating,” James said, digging the tip of his sword into the soft earth. “I couldn’t lose either, and I convinced myself that, at some perfect moment, war would become freedom.” He paused. “Truth is, I have no idea how to get from there to here.”
Silver gave a nudge of his chin at a point behind Flint. “He does,” he said.
Thomas was making his way towards Flint, his sword at his side. “Yes,” James said.
“Are you still angry?” Silver asked, at last.
James didn’t answer. And Silver was gone.
Thomas reached him. “My swordsmanship drills are several years behind me. The few first times will be tedious, I’m afraid.”
Observing Thomas getting into the proper stance, Flint said, “I’ve seen much worse. Pirates are actually terrible fencers.” He curled his left hand behind his back. “Your right feet a little forward.”
The blades shone in the sun. James could still smell the sea, and Nassau over the horizon.
Eight months later
Every time Marion Guthrie breathed in the cold air of Philadelphia’s winter, her throat hurt. She felt the need to cough. Her lungs were tired, and the rest of her body felt fragile and taut. None of this showed on her face, as she ran her fingernail along the seam of a bag of sugar, noticing as some slipped out.
She enjoyed the market most when it was crowded. When she could collect information, as well as prices for merchandise.
But there was no way for her to know that the information that would befall her, on that day of March, would not come from the lips of common traders, tea-sellers and captains. It came from the ground.
As she rounded the corner, she circled a blind beggar, rags of wool drawn tight around him. “Some pity for the poor and the blind,” he said, monotonous. His worn-out voice kept on. “Some pity for a poor beggar. Some pity for James Flint.”
Mrs. Guthrie stopped. She walked her way back to the beggar and stopped before him. “Why should we have pity for James Flint?” she asked him.
“Because he’s alive and well, m’lady,” the beggar said, his eyes hidden by a scarf tied around them. “Alive and well. And he remembers about the treasure.”
Marion Guthrie’s brow creased. “What treasure?”
“The Spanish treasure,” the beggar said. “Some pity, Mrs. Guthrie,” he said again, hand held out, his voice clearer this time.
She gestured to the men escorting her. “Treat this man to a warm meal and a pint of Phildelphia’s finest,” she instructed. “And find out if he knows what he claims to.”
Chapter 7: Coda
It felt like death. If his death would fit into two chests, smaller than the cache of gems, yes. But still. Flint helped Morgan haul the chests down into a longboat, watching carefully as they hung over the ocean.
On the beach of Maroon Island, the two chests sank in the wet sand. Flint hauled one on his shoulder. Morgan took the other one, and they made their way into the jungle, back to the camp.
Once they had reached Madi’s hut, Morgan went back to ship and Flint knocked. It was midday. There were children playing nearby. Two of them stopped and eyed the mysterious chests at Flint’s side.
The door opened.
And Flint found himself staring at John Silver. His shirt was open and he was just finishing to slip a piece of mango in his mouth.
Flint froze. “Uh…” he started, a frown deepening on his forehead.
Silver stared at him. “You didn’t get the wrong hut,” he said. “She’s back there.”
Just then, Madi stepped out of the other room and walked to the door. “Captain Flint,” she said. Then her eyes landed on the chests at his feet. “What are those?”
At last, Flint’s eyes left Silver and settled on her. “My books,” he said. “I took them off the Walrus before we depart. They’ve already survived many endeavors, I am sure, mostly out of sheer luck.”
“I would have thought, yes, that pirate ships don’t mix well with literature,” she said. “Are they mine to keep?”
Flint smiled. “I do hope to come back here, someday. Once this is over,” he said. “And I wouldn’t mind if you authorized me to borrow one or two, from time to time.”
“Of course,” Madi said. She smiled radiantly.
Flint took both chests inside and put them near the desk and shelves. Madi opened the first, and started sifting through the volumes.
Later that day, Silver joined him near the palisade. “You’re giving away your books?”
Flint eyed him slyly. “It’s not away,” he said, after a moment. “But yes. Madi will have good use for them.”
“I’ve never seen you giving away books before,” Silver said.
Clasping his hands in his back, Flint said, “They were mostly Miranda’s. I don’t want them sunk in the bay of Nassau.”
Silver searched for Flint’s eyes. “Are you thinking any of us could sink in that bay? That we could be defeated now?” he said.
“They’ll be at home here,” Flint said, quietly.