“Nothing to be done. Eden’s up to his neck in it.”
“Eden’s getting too much of the goods, if you ask me,” a gruff voice flung out.
“And Tobias Knight looks out for no one save himself.”
“They are all in it together, you know.” The man lifted a tankard to his lips and threw back the contents.
“We’ve no choice but to fight the bastard ourselves,” someone shouted from the back of the tavern.
“And have him seek revenge on our plantations and our merchants’ ships?” a small squeaky voice piped in.
“And plunder our women?”
Heads nodded in agreement.
“Our lives are at stake, here. He will burn us to the ground if we cross him,” a worried voice insisted.
“We can’t cross him.”
“We need help. We can’t do it alone.”
“We’ve got to do something.”
“He rifled my boat to the bare boards and stole my mother’s silver!” The man pounded the table before him, tankards filled with drink jumping into the air, splashes of liquor sprinkling the table. “We cannot sit here any longer.”
“He took liberties with my only daughter!” Another stood to the forefront of the group and shook his fist in the air.
“He has my wife.”
The darkened room sat still with a hushed silence as all eyes searched through the murky haze of tobacco and oil smoke for the man who belonged to the last anxious voice.
Jack Porter stepped through the crowded tavern to the center of the gathering. Slowly glancing about the room, from man to man, he stood before them, weighing the situation at hand. “I want my wife back.” Then he quickly scanned the room, making eye contact with every man there.
He felt their sympathy. Each of them had suffered losses to Blackbeard. He was not alone. He prayed they would support him. He continued speaking, and they listened intently.
“Governor Eden will not cross Blackbeard. Tobias Knight, we know, will not cross him either. There is too much to gain from their current arrangement, but we have got to stop this pillaging,” he said calmly.
“And how do you propose we do that, kind sir?” another challenged.
Jack swallowed hard and eyed the man standing meekly at the edge of the crowd. “I propose we go to Virginia and enlist the support of Alexander Spotswood.”
“Spotswood?” Jack heard the name murmur and ripple throughout the crowded room.
“Yes,” Jack replied. “Governor Alexander Spotswood.”
Alexander Spotswood sat back in his chair and listened intently to the conversation around him. The delegation from the Carolina province had wasted no time acquainting the governor with their grievances, and Spotswood listened with noncommittal interest. It was not the first time he’d heard such complaints.
“The situation as it stands on the Pamlico Sound is rapidly deteriorating, sir. We simply cannot go on any longer. We are in dire need of assistance,” William Smythe instructed the governor.
“And if I might add, sir, he is practicing utter disregard for the amnesty granted under the King’s proclamation,” one of the planters said.
“Let me present the affidavit, sir, from one of the inhabitants of the province. As you can see, Teach’s insolent behavior is clearly documented.”
Spotswood leaned forward, read the affidavit, and nodded his agreement.
“And then there is the business about Governor Eden and Tobias Knight.” Jack Porter stepped forward then to face Governor Spotswood. “Besides the pillaging and plundering up the entire Carolina coast and then some, Teach, just in the past few weeks, ransacked and captured a French vessel laden with sugar, sweetmeats, cotton, and cocoa. It is rumored, sir, that Tobias Knight and Eden were delivered goods from that cargo in exchange for papers stating the vessel had been wrecked at sea. And then, Eden granted Teach permission to burn the ship with the intent to block the Ocracoke channel. As you may know, Governor, the inlet there is of much importance to the passage of vessels through the Pamlico Sound to the mainland. Some of which will venture north to Virginia.”
Spotswood straightened in his chair and eyed the man who stood before him. “And who may you be, sir?”
“My name is Jack Porter. I’m a pilot. I make my residence on Ocracoke Island.”
Spotswood raised his chin and narrowed his gaze at Jack. “So what brings you here with this delegation of planters and merchants? What stake in this pursuit of the devil-of-the-sea do you have?”
Jack stared directly at Spotswood. It was a long moment before he answered. “Each of us here has suffered at the hands of Captain Edward Teach, sir, some more than others. Some have surrendered money, some jewels, some sugar and cocoa, some medications. Some have lost family members. Some have lost their daughter’s pride. I, sir, have lost my wife—twice. My first wife died at the hands of the bastard. And now, my present wife has been kidnapped and is, as we speak, held captive aboard his sloop the Adventure! That, sir, is my stake in coming here to you today. I want my wife back. I am enlisting your help. I pray it is not too late.”
“So you know these waters well, do you?”
Jack looked at the man leaning against the ship’s rail beside him. Lieutenant Robert Maynard, commander of the Pearl, was known as a fire-eater. Jack sure hoped so. He didn’t relish the idea of going into battle against Teach with a milksop, but from all indication, Maynard was far from that.
He nodded his affirmation to Maynard. “Aye. Know them well.”
The afternoon breeze whipped through their hair as they peered off into the vast ocean. The sun glinted off the peaks of the waves far out from the sloop. A school of dolphin arched through the water larboard side. Jack looked down at the curls of waves giving way from the ship as they sliced through the water. It was good wind, and they were making excellent time.
It had been a five-day journey, and they were near the end. They had silently slipped their anchor cables and sailed down the James River toward Chesapeake Bay on November 17. From there they bore southward along the barrier islands toward Ocracoke Inlet. And now, cautiously slipping by Cape Hatteras, avoiding the dangerous shoals lying to the south and east, they were nearly there. Jack’s restlessness grew with each passing day.
Maynard stepped back and looked to Jack. “I’ll be needing your expertise to maneuver close to him, and at the right times. I don’t want the bastard to slip away.”
Jack shook his head. “Nor do I. I know these waters like I know my woman’s body,” he said as his eyes met with Maynard’s. “To my way of thinking, Lieutenant, I have more at stake here than the rest of you. I need your promise that your men will be mindful of my wife on board the Adventure! I would like my hands to get to know her once more. I promise you, I’ll find Teach for you. I know where he likes to play. And I will lead you to him, but my wife…please sir, be mindful of my wife. Once I get close, I don’t know how much help I can be to get the bastard. My quest is to see her safely home.”
Maynard eyed Jack and then nodded in understanding. “You have my promise.”
Jack dropped his head and lowered his gaze. He knew Maynard’s position. His mission was to take Blackbeard, dead or alive; anything else was secondary. Jack knew Maynard would do what he could, but he also knew rescuing Claire would be up to him. Even though he’d love to stick around and see Teach get his due, he needed more to get to Claire.
He looked again to Maynard. “Your charts are outdated. The waters change with the winds. The sands shift, the shoals fill up, and the squalls change it all again. The channels are unmarked, but I know where you need to go. You need to have men ready to pole off the sandbars should we get grounded and have to wait for the tides. Other than that, you’ll have to rely on the wind and luck…and me.”
Their gazes held, and then Maynard’s lip curled upward. Jack had made his point. Maynard needed him. “And by the grace of the good Lord we’ll put the Devil back into Hell.”