Council Of Fire – Snippet 30

Council Of Fire – Snippet 30

“I might ask with whom I am speaking,” Boscawen said.

“My name is Takyi, which you whites pronounce as ‘Tacky.’ I command here.”

“By whose authority?”

The black man laughed derisively, as if it was the most ridiculous question. “Why, by my own, of course! Among the Fante people I was a king, before cowardly men sold me with many others to labor here. But we are free now, free!”

“That is not your decision to make,” Boscawen answered. “I may have something to say about that.”

“I doubt that,” he said. “Obeah makes us powerful. Your bullets cannot harm us.”

As Boscawen considered his reply, Pascal came beside him. “Would you like me to test that assertion, My Lord? He’s giving us a pretty clear shot.”

“No,” Boscawen said quietly. “It accomplishes nothing; if you shoot him down for nothing but insolence, it might well inflame his followers. If indeed he cannot be harmed by rifle fire, it will disquiet the men.”

“But that insolence deserves a reply, sir.”

“I intend to reply, Pascal. Hold your fire.” Boscawen took a deep breath and said, “I am sure you believe that, Tacky, or whatever name you give yourself. What I know is that you have committed murder and other crimes, and you may save the lives of your followers if you surrender to me. I am not beholden to the governor of this island and will show more mercy than he is likely to do.”

“Mercy, is it?” Tacky said. “You speak of mercy–to people who have been dragged from their native land to labor here against their will, to suffer the lash and torture, to die from injury and disease so that whites can put sugar on their tables and rum in their bellies. What mercy derives from slavery, Commander?”

“I cannot judge your situation. I only seek to enforce justice.”

“I spit on your justice.” He reached inside his uniform coat and touched something; the two dead-eyed rowers began to turn the boat about. “I advise you to leave Port Maria, Commander. In fact, you would be best served to leave Jamaica entirely. My–servants–” he smiled, and the expression disturbed Boscawen–“will otherwise take your fine ship away from you.”

“I doubt that,” Boscawen said. “Get out of my sight, before we test your theory of invulnerability.”

Tacky laughed again, as the boat slowly began to retreat toward the shore. “I have given you fair warning,” he said.

Boscawen felt, rather than saw, Pascal come to attention.

“My Lord, I ask leave to take a boat and teach that boy a lesson he won’t soon forget.”

“Refused.”

“Sir–”

Refused, Lieutenant, unless you are contemplating mutiny against my authority.” He angrily turned to Pascal. “This is an unknown situation, with unforeseeable perils. This Tacky will be dealt with in due course, and not by a hotheaded junior officer and some restless marines. Do you understand, sir?”

“Yes, sir. Of course, sir.”

Boscawen turned away again and gazed through the eyepiece of his spyglass at the shore, where Tacky’s boat was approaching. As he watched, he could see figures begin to walk out of the little town onto the dock.

Silently, he cursed himself for losing his temper, even modestly. The lieutenant had every right to feel offended at the way in which his commanding officer had been addressed–and by a black slave at that!–but he repeated silently what he had told Admiral Cotes: My men are not infantrymen.

Tacky’s boat came up alongside the long dock that projected into the water; but instead of disembarking, he remained on board, cupping his hands and shouting something toward the half-ruined town.

There was a long, disturbingly quiet pause that gave Boscawen a chill despite the heat and humidity. Then, as he watched, the people on the dock–moving with a strange, jerky shuffle, began to walk forward and drop into the water. As they bobbed to the surface they began to move slowly out to sea, heading for Namur: first a half dozen, and then a dozen more, and a dozen more after that–men and women, young and old, with vacant, unseeing eyes.

My servants will take your fine ship away from you.

“Orders, Admiral?”

Pascal had looked across the water at the people coming slowly toward the ship; he looked anxious and perhaps afraid, but ready for orders.

“Where is Gustavus, Lieutenant?”

“Below decks, My Lord, helping with the guns.”

“Fetch him, if you please, and pass the word to our passengers to come above decks as well.”

“During a–” Pascal began, then saluted. “Yes, My Lord,” he said, and dashed down the steps onto the main deck. Boscawen could hear him calling for Gustavus as he went.

The dead-eyed men and women continued to drop into the water. They had ten, or perhaps as much as fifteen minutes . . . and if, indeed, they were somehow unaffected by musket fire . . .

A broadside would tear a few of them apart–but even with chain shot loaded it would not be very effective with small targets near the waterline. And there seemed to be more and more of them coming.

To take my fine ship, Boscawen thought. They are coming to take the ship.

He saw Messier escorting Mademoiselle LaGendière up the steps on to the quarterdeck. She looked remarkably composed and held the alchemetical compass in her hands, as if she was expecting to make use of it.

“I do not wish to disturb you, my lady,” he said to her, “but I think that we are about to come under attack by . . .”

“Revenants,” she said. “Walking dead.” She held up the compass, and he could see the liquid within tilted in the direction of the land. As she walked, however, it seemed to change direction very slightly, as if it was focusing on one particular place. As always, the young woman seemed completely composed. She had shown little emotion of any kind since coming aboard Namur and appeared completely unfazed by the idea of animated corpses crossing the water.

Gustavus appeared at the top of the steps. He looked fearful as he glanced from Boscawen to the water and back.

“Come here, lad,” Boscawen said. “Tell me what you can of this business.”

“It’s . . . it’s obeah-magic, My Lord,” Gustavus said. “Those are dead people. Some obeah-man, or perhaps more than one, have animated them. They will feel no pain and will move as long as they are controlled.”

“These obeah-men. They would be close by?”

“Close enough to see their work, yes, My Lord. And for such a working they would be together, sharing their power.”

Boscawen looked about him and located a piece of marking-chalk. He took it and drew a rough circle five paces across, then gestured to Mademoiselle LaGendière to stand within it.

“Now turn, my lady, if you please. Clockwise. Very slowly.”

She did as she was asked, and Boscawen watched as the liquid inclined itself higher in the glass–and then began to decline once more.”

“Stop!” he said. “Turn back. Again, slowly.”

It reached its highest point, and Boscawen held up his hand. He bent down and drew a line perpendicular to the bow and stern, and then another line from the center of the circle through the place where the young lady was standing, and out to its edge.

“Mr. Pascal,” he said, “if you please, turn us about . . . two points to starboard. And prepare to fire.”

The order was passed. “When we raise sail, My Lord, they’ll think we’re running away.”

“Let them think as they like. Two points, no more. Fire on my order.”

The sails began to fill with wind, and the ship slowly began to turn. Boscawen watched carefully as the ship moved . . .

“Fire! Now!” he shouted. “Come one point to port, and fire again when ready!”

The roar of more than thirty cannon erupted, hurling chain shot–intended to take down rigging, and crew, from an enemy vessel–directly upward and toward the shore, where it crashed into the partly-destroyed buildings at the edge of the town. When the smoke cleared and the echo of the blast began to dissipate, he could hear the sounds of gun crews hauling the cannon back and preparing them for the next volley.

For several seconds more, the revenants–or walking dead, or whatever they could be called–continued to make their way toward the ship . . . and then, of a sudden, like puppets whose strings had been cut, they stopped moving and subsided, some sinking, some floating on the water, so that the calm water between Namur and Port Maria was suddenly littered with the dead.

 

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