They kept moving south, and when he judged that it was about three in the morning they came to the sandy end of one of the jungle footpaths they'd been following, stepped out from under an awning of palm fronds, and saw that they were on the beach. Between them and the blackness that was the sea were the faintly starlit blobs of buildings; Shandy thought he recognized the Maritime Law and Records Office, but he couldn't be sure. They walked forward to the beach, and then continued moving south, staying in the shadows of buildings as much as possible and getting across streets and open squares as quickly and quietly as they could. A few lamps glowed in buildings they passed, and a couple of times they could hear drunken voices not too far distant, but nobody hailed them.
They passed several docks and clusters of beached boats ... but each time Shandy crept closer to look for a stealable boat, there was a stray lantern-gleam or whispering voice nearby; and twice on the night breeze Shandy heard the unmistakable metallic click-and-slide of a sword being loosened in its scabbard, and once he heard a dockside voice whisper a sentence in which the name "Shandy" figured emphatically. Having failed to keep him from entering, the British authorities obviously did not mean to let him get out.
More cautiously than ever, Shandy and Beth walked on southward, passing the last of the stone buildings, then tiptoeing through an area of bamboo shacks and sailcloth tents, and finally, as the stars were fading, they reached a stretch of broad marshes along which the occasional turtle pen or fisherman's shack was the high point of the landscape. The mosquitoes were much worse here, making it necessary for the two fugitives to tie bands of cloth across the lower halves of their faces to avoid inhaling the insects, but Shandy appreciated the loneliness of this stretch of beach, and, no longer having to be perfectly silent, he began taking longer strides.
Just at dawn they found a decrepit pier with a sailboat moored at the end of it, and Shandy stared for several minutes at the half-dozen ragged men huddling around a small brazier - he could see pinpoints of red light in it when the erratic breeze fanned the coals - and then he relaxed and sat back down behind the bush that concealed him and Beth from the shore below.
"Just fishermen," he whispered, mostly to himself, for Beth had drifted off into another of her somnambulistic trances. He had draped his compass-weighted velvet coat around her shoulders hours ago, and he shivered in the dawn sea breeze when he stood up and then laboriously hauled her up to stand swaying and blank-eyed beside him. "Come on," he said, leading her forward and touching his baldric to make sure the weight of all the gold scudos was still there. "We're going to buy us a boat."
He knew the two of them would be a strange spectacle with which to confront these fishermen on a chilly winter dawn - an evidently sleep-walking woman in a nightdress and velvet coat escorted from the jungle by a mud-splashed, blood-stained man in formal dress, both their faces smeared with mud - but he was confident that half a dozen of the gold coins would allay all misgivings.
By the time they had slid down the slope and begun shambling through the sand toward the pier, most of the hunched figures had turned to stare at them, though one man, wearing a weathered straw hat and wrapped in a blanket, continued to sit on the end of the pier and face the newly sun-tipped gray waves.
Shandy smiled and held six scudos forward in the palm of his gloved hand as he led Beth Hurwood out onto the echoing boards of the pier ...
Then his smile faltered and disappeared, for he had noticed the flat, filmed eyes in the gray faces, and the bound-up jaws, and the sewn-shut shirts and the bare feet.
"Oh, damn it," he whispered hopelessly, realizing that neither of them had the strength to run - it was all he could do to continue standing. With no surprise he watched the figure at the end of the pier get to its feet, shed the blanket and toss away the hat so that the dawn sun gleamed on the bald scalp. The man took the cigar out of his mouth and smiled at Shandy.
"Thank you, Jack," he rumbled. "Come, my dear." He beckoned to Beth and she stumbled forward as if pushed from behind. The velvet coat slipped off her shoulders and fell onto the weathered planks of the pier.
Almost at the same moment, Shandy's knees unlocked and he found himself abruptly sitting on the planks. "You're dead," he muttered. "I killed you ... on the stairs."
Beth took two more quick, balance-catching steps.
The bald man shook his head sadly, as if Shandy was proving to be a disappointing pupil. He puffed on the cigar and waved its glowing head at Shandy. "Come on, Jack, don't you remember the slow matches I used to braid into my hair and beard? Low-smoldering fire, that's the drogue that holds Baron Samedi's protective attention. A lit cigar works just as well. Your blade stuck me, sure enough, but the Baron, the good old Lord of the Cemeteries, repaired the damage before I had time to expire."
Beth was swaying halfway between them now, and the sun made her hair gleam like fresh-sheared copper. Shandy scrabbled at the wood and the tail of the coat, trying to find the strength to stand up again.
"But I don't hold grudges," the giant went on, "any more than Davies did, when you cut him. I'm grateful to you for escorting to me my bride - the only woman in the world who has shed blood in Erebus - and I'd like you to be my quartermaster."
Tears dripped from Shandy's squinting eyes onto the weathered planks. "I'll see you in Hell first, Blackbeard."
The giant laughed, though his eyes were now fixed on the slim, approaching figure of Beth Hurwood. "Blackbeard's dead, Jack," he said without looking away from the woman. "You must have heard. It's been absolutely verified. I need a new nickname now. Baldy, maybe." He laughed again, and his motionless dead mariners did too, whickering like sick horses through their nostrils. Shandy had been unthinkingly pulling the velvet coat toward himself, and now he felt a hard lump in it. He slid his hand into the pocket, and by touch recognized the brass-rimmed, glass-topped disk - it was the compass he'd bought. His heart began pounding, and with what he hoped was a convincingly despairing moan, he fell face down onto the pier, over the coat.
The giant reached out a hand toward Beth.
Shandy pulled the compass out of the pocket and then fumbled at it helplessly for a moment - he had nothing to break the glass with!
Blackbeard touched Beth Hurwood, and the air seemed to twang, as if the roof of the sky had been solidly struck.
Shandy opened his mouth and wedged the compass between his jaws, and then he ground them together, tasting abraded brass and feeling at least one molar implode, until he was dizzy and sick and his teeth and jaw muscles were in agony; he lifted his head and saw Blackbeard's hand on Beth's shoulder, and the sight lent him a little more strength. The glass broke under his front teeth, and, spitting glass and blood, he took the device out of his mouth, pried the compass needle loose, then drew his saber and shoved the needle in under the leather wrapping until he felt it grind against the steel of the tang. After that he placed his gloved right hand gently on the grip so that the protruding end of the needle pressed into his palm ... and he squeezed the grip tightly, driving the needle deep into his hand. With a sudden flash of intuition he raised the sword over his head and yelled, "Phil!"
And without having to look around he knew he was no longer alone. With aid he got to his feet, raised his sword with his dripping, pierced hand and shufflingly advanced toward Blackbeard.
But, though the burly figure was starkly silhouetted against the brightening sea and sky, Blackbeard - perhaps against his will - wasn't alone anymore either. As if some kind of cosmic balance had to be maintained, Shandy's cry seemed to have summoned seconds for both of them. Shandy wasn't sure how he knew it; a sound? A smell? Yes, that was it - a smell - a faint, disagreeable mix of cologne, chocolate syrup and unwashed linen was disfiguring the clean sea air.
The unmistakable smell of Leo Friend.
Blackbeard's hand slithered up to Beth's shoulder and curled around it. His lips were wet and his eyes couldn't have been opened any wider and his breath was whooshing in and out through his open mouth. The cigar clung precariously to his lower lip. Shandy realized, even as he started forward, that the disembodied Leo Friend was somehow inhabiting the same space as Blackbeard, and, at least at the moment, was in control.
Shandy grabbed Beth's other shoulder and spun her aside, and then with the back of his hand he slapped the cigar out of the big man's slack mouth, and when it hissed as it hit the water below the pier, he drove his sword with all his remaining strength into the giant's belly.
The big man's eyes stayed wide open, but now they were staring straight into Shandy's and it was only Blackbeard looking out of them. The mouth opened in a bloody but confident smile.
Blackbeard took a step forward. Nearly fainting with the pain, Shandy leaned on the saber and tried to stand his ground, but though the blade was forced another couple of inches into Blackbeard's body, the needle was grating in his wrist-bones and he had to step back. The scuffing of his boots sounded loud on the planks of the pier.
The giant, still grinning bloodily, took another step, and again Shandy braced himself against the torment in his hand, and this time he felt the blade punch out through the man's back - but Blackbeard had reached the brazier now and reached down, picked up one of the glowing, ash-dusted coals as daintily as if it were a candy on a proffered tray, and squeezed it in his huge left fist.
All over the harbor, for miles up and down the shore, sea birds flapped up into the air, clamoring in alarm.
Smoke spurted from between Blackbeard's fingers and blew away, and Shandy could hear the flesh sizzling. "Low-smoldering fire," the giant grated. Blackbeard stepped lithely back, so that as Shandy kept his grip on the saber hilt the blade slid out of him, and with his right hand he drew his own rapier. For a moment he paused, staring at the quick drops of blood falling from Shandy's hand. "Ah, Jack," Blackbeard said softly. "Someone taught you the blood and iron trick? You've clenched your fist over a compass needle? That won't work against Baron Samedi - he's more than a loa and he's not bound by their rules. He was showing the Carib Indians why night is to be feared centuries before Jean Petro was born. Drop the sword."
Shandy was sure he had lost, but he could feel Philip Davies at his back, and when he spoke he half thought Davies was prompting him. "My men and I," said Shandy hoarsely but distinctly, "are sailing to New Providence, to surrender to Woodes Rogers." He bared his teeth in a smile. "I'm giving you the choice. Join us, wholly adopt our goals as your own, or be killed right now where you stand."
Blackbeard looked startled, then laughed -
- And suddenly Shandy lurched back on the carpentry shop bench, staring at the marionette he held in his right hand. It was one of the expensive yard-high Sicilian marionettes, and he had to hold it steady until the glue that held its head on had dried, but a long splinter was sticking out from the back of the mannikin and stabbing him painfully in the palm. The thing was heavy, too. His arm was trembling with the weight and agony of the thing. But if he let it go it would be ruined.
Its brightly painted eyes were on him, and then its mouth opened. "Drop me," it said. "Open your hand and drop me."
The little wooden man was speaking with Shandy's own voice! Didn't that mean that it must be all right to do as it said? Shandy wanted to, but he remembered how proud his father had been when they'd got this one. He couldn't just drop it, no matter how much it hurt to hold it up.
"Drop me," the marionette repeated.
Well, why not, he thought as the sting of the splinter became more intense. What if it is my life I'm holding? It hurts, and none of these things lasts forever anyway.
Then he remembered something an ancient black man had said to him once in a boat on the Seine: "You got that tactic, that mud-ball trick, from Philip Davies - and you have wasted it. He gave you something else as well; it would not please me to see you waste that too."
The black man was gone, but a soft, reassuring hand gripped his shoulder, and he decided he could hold up the torturing mannikin for a while longer.
He opened his eyes, and found himself staring into Beth Hurwood's face.
Beth had been understandably slow to realize that she had drifted out of her delirium and was again wide awake - on a pier at dawn, dressed in her nightgown and surrounded by standing dead men. John Chandagnac was in front of her, holding a sword in a hand from which blood dripped energetically, facing a big bald man with a smoking fist and a terrible cut in his belly.
It had been the sharp chill in the air, and the clean smell of the sea, that finally convinced her that this strange scene was not another dream. There was tension and dire challenge in the air, and she hastily called on her memory for some of the recent speech here: Ah, Jack. Someone taught you the blood and iron trick? You've clenched your fist over a compass needle? That won't work against Baron Samedi ... Drop the sword.
Her eyes had darted to Shandy's sword hand, and she'd winced to see the blood pooling in the curve of the saber's knuckle-guard and running down his forearm ... but at the same time she'd grasped the fact that the iron needle shredding his palm was his only hope ... and that this bald man was trying to make him drop it.
Shandy's eyes were shut and the sword was wobbling in his hand - obviously he was ready to let go of it - but Beth was already moving forward. She took his shoulder firmly with one hand, and with the other she steadied the sword - by gripping the razor-edged blade tightly. Her own hot blood ran down the cold steel, followed the tang through the bell guard, and mingled with Shandy's. His eyes opened and met hers.
When the two bloods mixed the bald man was pushed back, but she knew he was only hampered, not beaten.