As Thom stumbled through the jungle, the ground became more solid, the earth damp and muddy. The air became denser, a moist quality hanging over him, as drops of water slipped of leaves and dripped onto his face and shoulders. The footprints carried on still. He crouched down, running his hands along the markings. The prints were still fresh, and dragging lines indicated that Hornigold was either injured and stumbling along the path, or he was running from something, not too cautious of where he was going. Paying mind to the latter idea, Thom saw a new set of footprints – bigger and more uncoordinated – following the line of Hornigold’s. And these new pair of feet were by no means animal.
Malcolm, Thom thought, raising his head and continuing his search, Malcolm’s gone after him.
Thom fought down a recently-frequent emotion – guilt. Malcolm was insane. Quite frankly, if Hornigold so wished it, the madman could be dead by now. The idea of Malcolm’s death made Thom curse and speed forward, as wet leaves slapped his face and twisted roots made him trip and stumble. Birds and ocelots jumped out of his way as he recklessly scrambled passed them, iguanas having scuttled away frantically moments before. Thom tried jumping over a fallen log but fell gracelessly – only adding to his shame by crying, “Damn!”
The birds squawked and flew out of the trees at the sound of his voice. This was normal.
What was not normal, however, was the agonised howl that responded to his curse.
Bewildered, Thom got up and continued in his hurry. He broke through the clearing, just in time to see Malcolm laughing manically as Hornigold slashed a blade across his face. Malcolm fell back, putting a hand to the wound and giggling at the blood that stained his palm as if it were merely paint.
“D-dead men,” he said, “D-dead, dead men!”
Hornigold turned slightly. He was a tall man, with the rugged appearance of an experienced sailor. He had dark hair tied back with a ribbon, several scars marked his face, and his long, blue coat had clearly seen better days.
He regarded Thom, “Pirate?” he said, a brow raised.
“Turn-coat,” said Thom, gritting his teeth and ripping his cutlass out of its scabbard.
Hornigold paused and then laughed, turning fully to his new adversary, “Which one’re you then? Quick’s the dark one, I know that much,” he held his sword poised, “Jenkins is the broad one. Bonny’s the woman. Which one’re you? I don’t suppose ye’re a captain o’ any kind,” he laughed and struck forward, putting his weight into the blow.
Thom side-stepped the blow and lashed out to his side, Hornigold caught it with ease. Thom struck again, and their swords were locked.
“I’m Thomas McCarthy the Tinker,” Thom spat, “And your end, Hornigold.”
Hornigold scoffed, “I doubt that, Tinker.” He loosened the hold and then threw Thom off.
Thom lost his balance, but managed to kicked the blade out of the pirate-hunter’s hand before falling over backwards. He could hear Malcolm muttering merrily, “D-dead men. Both dead men.”
Thom got up, seeing Hornigold reaching for his sword, and kicked viciously under the man’s chin and then kicked him again to the side of his face so that Hornigold fell over. Thom stood up as Hornigold spat blood. He threw his cutlass away, and grabbed the man’s collar, head-butting him hard in the nose. Hornigold shrieked, digging his nails into Thom’s arms.
“Ye bastard!” he barked, “I’ll make ye pay, I swear’t!”
“Nothin’ll rub the mark o’ your treachery, Ben!” said Thom, knocking Hornigold against a truck of a tree and pinning him there, “I’m only payin’ ye your due!”
“The King’s Pardon would’ve made ye a free man, Tinker!”
“Aye, but what is a free man if he’s e’er a slave?”
All of a sudden, arms wrapped around Thom’s throat and he was pulled away.
“Malcolm, no!” he cried, “Stop’t!”
“No tales,” said Malcolm, dragging Thom away, “Dead men. N-no tales.”
Hornigold bawled in laughter, “That was some’un I wasn’t expectin’!” he said, picking up his sword.
Thom, struggling against Malcolm’s grip, took a pistol out of his holster and fired at Hornigold’s hand. The man jumped, howling, and dropped his weapon. Using the momentary distraction, Thom pulled Malcolm’s arms away, tearing himself free. Malcolm tried to come at him again, but Thom pushed him away into a bush.
A heavy weight smashed on top of Thom’s head and he crumpled.
“Fucking pirate!” Hornigold spat, standing over him, “I’d sworn t’rid the sea o’ your kind–”
“Our kind, Ben!” Thom growled, trying to get up. Hornigold stomped on his face and kept it down.
“No,” Hornigold said, “No, Tinker. I was ne’er your kind. Ye didn’t see what became o’ Nassau, our Pirate Republic. A place o’ life, beauty and trade became a place o’ idling, idiocy and rot. It became a fuckin’ pile o’ shite! We took our chance and, within two years, we chewed’t up and spat’t out! Ye’re young, Tinker. Naïve. Ye didn’t see what happened. Ye just wanted t’belong. T’fight for this… freedom. T’fullfil a dream that could ne’er be. I should know. I wanted the same thing!”
Thom breathed hard, “So turnin’ in wi’ the people who betrayed ye – betrayed us all – was your solution?”
“Aye!” said Hornigold, taking a dagger from his belt, “Because the people who betrayed us made a deal that none o’ us should’ve refused. But Thatch and Rackham were so eager t’oppose. And Vane… well, he was done in by his own crew.”
“They were heroes!”
“They were pillocks, damn you!” Hornigold spat, kneeling down, “E’ery last one o’ you were a bloody bunch o’ pillocks! From robbin’ the sea, t’bein’ free o’ all charges–”
“But penniless, Ben!”
“Ye can’t have everyth’un, lad! You made your choice. Here’s the consequence t’your actions,” Hornigold lowered the blade towards Thom’s throat, “Ye’ll be meetin’ your heroes soon enough…”
Thom shut his eyes, waiting for the inevitable.
Then Hornigold growled in frustration. Thom looked up, seeing Hornigold struggle against arms around his throat, Malcolm tightening his hold with every passing moment, bending the pirate-hunter back. Thom stood up, picking up Hornigold’s sword and rushing to him. Hornigold twisted his dagger and stabbed Malcolm several times in his stomach.
Malcolm fell away, and Thom ran Hornigold through with his cutlass. The pirate-hunter gasped, staring at Thom, then at the sword in his gut dribbling blood, then back at Thom. Thom twisted the blade and let Hornigold drop away. The sword clattered on the ground as Thom threw it and knelt beside Malcolm.
He was heaving slowly.
There were no words of comfort. Malcolm was a dead man, Thom could see it. He took the man’s hand and held it. Thom listened intently as Malcolm muttered to himself, his lips becoming moist with his own gore. His wide eyes calmed and the frantic muttering slowed to a low, soft murmur.
“D-dead men…” said Malcolm, “Dead men tell no tales.”