The oak wheels of the wagon sounded like distant rolling thunder. The driver of the wagon put a bottle of whiskey to his lips and then turned the bottom of the bottle skyward. The driver wiped his paper-thin lips with the back of his hand and then handed the bottle to the man sitting beside him. His partner laid his blunderbuss on his lap and then took the bottle in his plump, ruddy fist.
“Whoa!” The driver shouted.
The wagon came to an abrupt halt. Whiskey splashed in the face of the man riding shotgun.
“What the hell?” The man shouted. “Why’d ya stop the carriage, Fred?”
“Look,” Fred whispered, pointing toward something before him.
Standing in the middle of the road was a giant who towered nearly seven feet. The giant was massively muscled; his barrel-like chest strained against the red, cotton material of his sleeveless waistcoat. His chestnut-hued forearms were as girthy as a man’s thigh; his neck, like the trunk of a mahogany sapling.
The ebon colossus’ face was hidden beneath the shadow cast by the brim of his black, beaver skin capotain hat. The tall hat tilted over the brow of the giant gave him the appearance of a fearsome, black pilgrim, come to wreak bloody vengeance upon his racist white counterparts.
“Show ya’self and state ya’ business,” Fred commanded. “Or Riley here is gonna put iron in ya’ chest!”
Riley dropped the bottle of whiskey onto the dirt road and raised his blunderbuss.
The giant smiled; his perfect alabaster teeth in stark contrast to his dark skin. “Dweet, bwai,” he said in a heavy Jamaican patois – “Do it, boy.” – “You’ll be dead t’ree seconds aftah.”
“Ya’ black bastard!” Riley spat. “Yer’ dead!”
Riley squeezed the trigger of the blunderbuss. A din like thunder rent the crisp evening air. A cloud of marble sized iron pellets and rusty nails sped toward the giant.
The giant lunged to his left with blinding speed.
The shrapnel from the blunderbuss flew past him.
“Impossible!” Riley gasped.
Fred leapt down from his seat. “Hurry up and reload!”
Fred drew his slender, sharply pointed smallsword from its sheath. He thrust the point toward the giant…but the black stranger had seemingly vanished from the road.
“Where is he?” Fred inquired. “Do you see him Riley?”
Fred was met with silence.
“Riley?” Fred repeated.
“Riley, I said…”
Fred looked up at the wagon. Riley’s body was slumped over in the seat. His head, cleanly severed from his body sat in his lap.
“No!” Fred screamed.
“Yah, mon.” A voice replied from behind him.
Fred whirled on his heels, slashing with his sword.
The giant blocked the blade with a backhanded swipe of his own sword – a broad, slightly curved cutlass four feet in length. The weapon’s grip and guard were carved from ivory. Its keen blade, forged from cold steel.
Fred’s sword was rent in two, leaving only the grip in Fred’s trembling hand.
“Mi name is Jack Mansong,” the giant bellowed. “Time for you to join Riley in hell.”
Jack raised his cutlass above his head.
Tears streamed down Fred’s cheeks. “No…please, don’t kill me,” he sobbed.
“Everybody die dem, mi bredren,” – “Everyone dies, my friend,” – Jack replied. “Ah fi yuh tun today.” – “It’s your turn today.”
Jack slashed downward with his cutlass with tremendous force. The sharp blade struck Fred’s skull, cleaving it in two.
Fred’s lifeless body collapsed, landing with a dull thud at Jack’s feet. Blood splashed onto Jack’s black leather shoes and black stockings, but Jack didn’t seem to notice. He peered over his shoulder and whistled loudly.
Two scores of Black men and women, all dressed in dark green waistcoats, similar to Jack’s red one, slipped from behind the Blue Mahoe trees that lined the road and sprinted toward Jack, their muskets and flintlock pistols at the ready.
“Nesta,” Jack said.
“Yah, mon,” a tall, beautiful woman with toffee-colored skin answered.
“Check di wagon,” Jack ordered.
Nesta trotted to the back of the wagon. Four men and two women formed a rank behind her. She pointed her flintlock pistol at the wagon and then snatched back its cover.
Huddled together at the front of the wagon, cowering in the shadows, were five young Black women in their late teens and a boy no older than twelve or thirteen.
“Come on out,” Nesta said. “You’re free now.”
The women crawled in a single file to the back of the wagon and then hopped down onto the road. The boy followed suit.
“How many we got?” Jack asked.
“Five gyals dem,” Nesta answered. “One bwai.”
Jack sauntered toward the young ladies and the boy. “Where were dey take yuh?”
“Mi heard di one called Fred say him was take we to Governor Dalling,” one of the girls said, taking a step toward Jack. “Him said we were gwine be his belly warmer dem.”
“Di bwai, too?” Nesta asked shaking her head.
“Yah, mon, ma’am,” the girl answered.
“Well, you’re free now,” Jack said. “So, you’re free to choose. Go fi yuh own way an’ fend fah yourselve dem, or jine me an’ we work to make all o’ we free.”
“Mi reckon join ya’ is better dan’ slave fi dem’,” the girl replied.
The other women and the little boy nodded in agreement.
“Den, welcome to di army of Jack Mansong,” Jack said with a bow and a wave of his capotain hat. “Hop back in di wagon an’ Nesta, here, will drive yuh home.”
With that, Jack turned away from his army and sprinted toward the tree line. The shadows of the Blue Mahoes seemed to embrace him and a moment later, the giant was gone.
The shadows opened and Jack stepped out onto a narrow path that led to the gaping maw of a cave. Twenty of his soldiers greeted him, kneeling on their right knee and raising their machetes to their foreheads in their traditional salute. Jack knelt, returning the salute and then hopped to his feet. The soldiers followed suit. Jack then embraced each of them, asking each man and woman about their day before marching up the path to the cave.
Jack stepped inside the cave. Torches lined the walls, bathing the illustrations of Jack’s exploits – drawn by Nesta, who was a masterful artist – and the hieroglyphs – drawn by his master to ward off their white oppressors – in firelight.
Jack strode past several torch lit rooms and passages on either side of him, journeying deeper down the main passageway until he came to a capacious room lit, not by torches, but by hundreds of white candles. In the center of this room was a small pool of clear water. Beside the pool, sitting upon his haunches on a straw mat, was a middle-aged man dressed in a white tunic and white breeches.
Jack lowered himself into a prone position and then pressed his forehead to the stone floor. “Wah gwan, Tata Boukman.” – “Hello, Father Boukman.”
“Wah gwan, Jack,” Tata Boukman replied. “Come si’ down wid mi, mon.”
Jack leapt to his feet and walked toward the mat. He knelt before his teacher and embraced him. He then sat on the mat opposite Boukman.
Between the two men sat a tray, which was carved from a red wood. The tray was the size of a dinner plate, with a smiling Afrikan man’s face carved into the edge of the tray closest to Jack. Jack knew well who this sculpted visage belonged to – it was the face of Tata Legba, the Divine Trickster and intermediary between the forces of nature and humanity. Upon the tray was what Tata Boukman called his “soodsaya chain” – a thin, brass chain about the size of a necklace, to which eight halves of palm seeds are connected.
Boukman held the soodsaya chain between his fingers and thumb, letting the ends of it hang just above the tray. With a gentle back and forth movement of his fingers, the divining chain swung back and forth. After the third forward swing, Boukman opened his fingers, allowing the chain to fall upon the tray.
Boukman examined the pattern formed by the palm seeds. He picked up the chain and repeated the process twice more.
“Fi yuh read come dem wid blessins’,” – “Your divination comes with blessings,” Boukman said. “Yuh are blessed wid victory ovah enemy dem.”
Boukman pressed the tips of his crooked, ebony fingers to the brown leather pouch that hung from Jack’s chest. “Nuh white mon cyan harm yuh as long as yuh wear fi yuh Obi’Yah bag upon fi yuh chest. Howevah, yuh need protection from fi yuh own Black bredren.”
Boukman slid his right hand into his left sleeve. A moment later he withdrew what looked like a large goat’s horn wrapped in tan leather. “Dis ram a hawn make dem any attack wid di white man a weapons witless, even if di wielda is blacker dan a dousand midnights.” – “This ram’s horn renders any attack with the white man’s weaponry worthless, even if the attacker is blacker than a thousand midnights.”
Boukman placed the horn in Jack’s open palms. Jack clutched it, feeling it pulse in his fist. He slipped the leather cord attached to the horn over his head and let the horn hang at his right side.
“‘Ow did today a mission guh?” – “How did today’s mission go?” Boukman asked.
“Nuh silva or food dis time,” Jack replied. “Dis time we got five sistas and one bredda.”
“Are dey wid wi?” Boukman inquired.
“Good! Obi is swell our ranks!”
“T’ank Obi,” Jack said, nodding in agreement. “Soon, we will take Jamdung from the white man and finally live free!”
“We done here,” Boukman said. “Mi will see yuh at dinna.”
“Alright,” Jack said, rising to his feet. “Rest up, Tata Boukman.”
“Oh, an’ Jack…”
“Yeh mon, Tata?”
“Don’t send Nesta outa pon anymo’ missions.”
“But shim ah mi bes’ soldia’.” – “But she is my best soldier.”
“Shim ah also breed.” – “She is also with child.”
Jack’s eyes grew as wide as saucers and his chin fell to his chest. “Yuh mean we…?”
“You’ll be a fam’ly soon,” Boukman said. “Suh, nuh mo’ missions fah Nesta.”
“Yeh mon, Tata!” Jack said, beaming.
Boukman Dutty laced his fingers behind his head, lay on his back and closed his eyes.
Jack backed out of the room, stepping into the cool, welcoming shadows and once again, disappeared.
Governor John Dalling’s plump, ivory fist slammed into the top of his mahogany desk. Earl Gray tea spilled from his porcelain cup and splashed into the saucer upon which it sat. “I want that Black bastard’s head! For overlong, Jack Mansong has wrought a reign of terror upon the good, white citizens of Jamaica.”
The governor leered at the lean, russet-colored man standing before him. “Your people – those…Maroons – swore, according to our agreement, to keep order amongst the free savage and the slave. Why are they not bringing an end to this Jack mess?”
“First of all, di Maroons are nah mi people,” the lean man replied. “Nanny ‘av grown weak, but refuse dem to tun ova powa to di strong.”
“Strong, like you?” Governor Dalling said with a smirk.
“Nah like mi,” the man said. “Ha’ Obi’Yah is nuh match fi di powa of di grave. Di powa mi mama passed dung to me – the power my mother passed down to me. Di Maroons were ‘fraid of dat powa, but used it – and we – to help winna deir freedom – to help win their freedom. But when it came time to divide di powa an’ di land, Nanny kept it to herself!”
“Well, Quashie, your powers have been quite effective in dealing with my opponents and detractors, I must admit.” Governor Dalling said.
“Of course, yuh mus’,” Quashie said. “Look, mi will deal wid dis Jack Mansong for dat t’ree hundred pound bounty yuh put pon his head, but yuh will also haf’fi gimmi command of a hundred of fi yuh men.”
Governor Dalling’s fat face twisted into a scowl. “What! A Black leading white men? That’s preposterous!”
“As preposterous as that wig yuh wear pon fi yuh bald head,” Quashie said. “Jack Mansong ‘av big wa’ Obi an’ an army of highly trained warriors. Mi cannot wage wa’ wid him widout men.”
“Alright,” the governor sighed. “I’ll pay you nine hundred pounds sterling for Jack’s head, plus an additional fifty pounds for every member of Jack’s army you return to the plantations, but I can only spare fifty men.”
“Yuh ‘av a deal,” Quashie said. “Now, let we seal our agreement ovah hot tea. ‘Av fi yuh bwai bring me a cup!”
Jack and Nesta sauntered around the circle of sweating men and women who rolled, leapt and somersaulted backward, forward and sideways while holding their machetes toward the red sun of dawn.
“Kipura ah de war dance of fi wi ancestors from de Kongo,” he bellowed. “It will make yuh strong; it will make yuh agile; it will teach yuh to endure an’ prepare yuh fah fi yuh deepa combat trainin’. Suh, wi train inna Kipura every day. Wi train until fightin’ ah as easy as sleepin’!”
“Aye!” The men and women in the circle shouted in unison.
Juda, the boy who – along with the five young women – was rescued from enslavement under Governor Dalling, sprinted into camp. Only two weeks had passed and Juda had already earned a place among Jack’s scouts, who explored beyond the area occupied by Jack’s forces to gain vital information about the enemy’s movements and features of the environment for later analysis by their leader.
“Field Marshal Jack!” Juda shouted as he ran toward Jack. “A caravan!”
“Slow dung, bwai,” Jack replied. “A caravan dis early? Weh ah it?”
“Pon Windward Road,” Juda said. “‘Bout five wagons…all covered.”
“Could be a trap,” Nesta said.
“Could be,” Jack replied. “Suh, I’ll just tek t’ree warriors wid mi. Nesta, put everyone pon alert. Juda, tell de scouts to return to camp an’ help load de weapons.”
“Aye!” Juda shouted before whirling on his heels and sprinting off.
“Aye!” Nesta said, but she did not move.
“A wah?” – “What is it?” Jack inquired.
“Be careful,” Nesta whispered, caressing his fingers with her own.
“Mi always am,” Jack replied, flashing Nesta a broad smile.
Nesta released Jack’s hand. Jack whirled on his heels and bolted off.
Jack lay prone on a hill that watched over Windward Road, his massive body concealed behind a fallen tree. Three of his most skilled warriors – Boogs, Moby and Vera – lay beside him, their muskets trained on the caravan below them. The caravan had stopped to tighten a wheel on one of the wagons. Each wagon’s blunderbuss-wielding guard stood beside their wagon, perusing the road and the hillside. The drivers of all but one wagon – the one with the loose wheel- sat in their seats with their hands upon the reins of their horses.
Moby snapped his head toward Jack. “Wah yuh tink?” He whispered.
“It does nah look like a trap,” Jack replied. “But looks can deceive. Howeva, wi need to strike before dat wheel ah tightened an’ dey can move. Wi don’t want any of dem gettin’ ‘way.”
“Aye,” Moby replied with a nod.
“Mi ago guh dung an’ seh wah gwan,” – “I’ll go down and say hello,” Jack said. “Cova mi.” – “Cover me.”
“What if ah a trap?” Vera inquired. “What if it is a trap?”
“Good,” Jack replied. “As long as we know we a inna a trap, wi still ‘av a bly to escape it.” – “As long as we know we are in a trap, we still have a chance to escape it.”
Jack hopped to his feet and drew his cutlass from its sheath. He then drew one of the flintlock pistols in his waistband. The giant nodded at the trio of warriors and then wrapped his arms around his chest.
Shadows swooped down upon him, blanketing Jack in their coolness. Jack felt a slight tug at his innards and then, a moment later, he was standing on Windward Road behind the caravan.
Good mawnin’, bakra,” – “Good morning, white slave masters,” Jack said with a smile.
The guards, turned toward Jack, pointing their blunderbusses at him.
Jack bowed slightly. “Fi mi name ah Jack Mansong, fi yuh friendly bandulu, wo’ has come to liberate yuh of de burden of fi yuh cargo. Mi know ah heavy an’ mi seek only to lighten fi yuh load. Suh leave de wagons…an’ live!”
“Mi tink nah,” – “I think not,” a voice called from inside the rearmost wagon.
Jack raised an eyebrow. The voice was not that of a white man, but of one of his kinsmen. “Show yourself.”
Quashie climbed out of the wagon. He was dressed in a sky blue-colored, velvet great coat with cream embroidery and brown suede cuffs and collar. His waistcoat underneath matched the colors of the great coat and his breeches and shoes were brown suede. His stockings, gloves and shirt were cream-colored, as were the twin machetes he held in each hand.
Jack studied the weapons. They were constructed of bone. Human thigh bones from the look of them. Dis mon ah ah necromanca – This man is a necromancer, he thought. Boukman Dutty had told him of them; how dangerous they were, but that few existed outside of the motherland.
“Wi knew yuh would come,” Quashie said, smiling.
“Wi?” Jack replied.
“Ah, where ah mi manners?” Quashie said. “Fi mi name ah Quashie.”
“An Accompong?” – “A Maroon Warrior?” Jack asked, recognizing the name as one given to Maroon warriors born on a Sunday.
“Once upon a time,” Quashie answered. “I’m a free mon, now.”
“A bag-o-wire ah mo’ like it,” – “A traitor is more like it,” Jack replied.
Quashie’s face twisted into a scowl. “Enough laba-laba!” – “Enough chit-chat!” He shouted. “Company…!”
Scores of soldiers scurried out of the wagons, like a swarm of crimson ants. These soldiers, unlike their typical brethren, wore all red, from their coats, to their breeches and leggings, to the tricorn hat upon their heads. They wore no blue breeches or white shirts like regular British infantry and only their black boots, leather and knee high, were of a different color. Each man was armed with a musket, which they all aimed at Jack’s chest.
Meet fi mi Crimson Guard,” – “Meet my Crimson Guard,” Quashie boasted. “Dey ‘av but one mission…to kill yuh!”
“A whole regiment for likkle ol’ mi,” Jack snickered. “Mi am flattered! But fi mi mudda always said ‘neva tek a gift from anyone widout givin’ a gift inna return’, suh…” – “But my mother always said ‘never take a gift from anyone without giving a gift in return’, so…”
Jack whistled. A cracking din raced across the hilltops. A blink of an eye later, the head of one of the Crimson Guards burst like a ripe pumpkin dropped from a rooftop. The soldier collapsed in a pool of his own blood, brain and skull fragments with a wet thump.
“Dat shot came from dem de hills,” Quashie shouted, pointing in the direction of Jack’s warriors with the tips of his machetes. “First Unit, find Jack smadi! Bring dem back alive ef yuh can. Ef nah, mek dem suffa!” – “First Unit, find Jack’s people! Bring them back alive if you can. If not, make them suffer!”
The guards of each wagon and ten Crimson Guards raced toward the hill.
Boogs, Moby and Vera took quick aim and fired in unison.
Two wagon guards and one Crimson Guard fell.
Jack’s warriors reloaded.
Quashie’s soldiers increased their pace, rushing, like a red wave, towards the log behind which their targets took cover.
The Crimson Guard formed a semicircle before Jack.
“Mi hear yuh cyan be harmed by de Babylon’s weapons,” Quashie said. “Let wi put dat legend to de test, yeh?”
“Yeh, mon. Do fi yuh wussa,” Jack answered. “Wi will sekkle up afta.” – “Yes. Do your worst…we’ll settle up after.”
“Fiyah!” Quashie commanded.
A tempest of bullets roared toward Jack.
The giant vanished, appearing a moment later behind Quashie and his Crimson Guard.
With a blistering figure-eight slash of his cutlass, the arm of two Crimson Guards were severed. They dropped their weapons, screaming in agony as they writhed on the ground.
Before the Crimson Guard could reload, five more pairs of arms, two heads and a foot – and the Crimson Guards to whom the body parts belonged – had joined them. The surviving Guards dropped their weapons and barreled up the road, babbling about the “duppy” – ghost – Jack Mansong.
Cheers atop the hill told Jack that his warriors had not fared as well as he had.
“Fi yuh bredren a dead, Jack Mansong,” Quashie said. “As yuh will be soon.”
“Mi come yah fi drink milk; mi nah come yah fi count cow,” – “I came here to drink milk; I didn’t come here to count cows,” Jack said, rolling his eyes.
“I won’t hold you any longer, then,” Quashie said. He then twirled both machetes in his hands, flipping their points toward the ground. Quashie leapt between a pair of his fallen soldiers. He dropped to one knee, thrusting downward with his machetes. The weapons sank into the belly of each corpse with a sickening squishing din.
Quashie murmured words in a tongue Jack had never heard before, neither in the Kongo, his homeland, or in Jamaica, the land where he now fought for the liberation of his people. He had never heard such words, but he could tell they were ancient and dark.
Quashie stood, sliding the bone blades out of the guts of his fallen soldiers. The weapons were now covered in an intricate network of veins that pulsed like the beating of a heart at rest. A syrupy, greenish-yellow ichor dripped from the tips of each weapon.
Two wagon guards charged down the hill with bayonets extended from the barrel of their muskets. One wagon guard circled behind Jack to his right and then exploded forward in unison with the guard on Jack’s left.
Jack tossed his cutlass into the air, sending it flipping high above him. Then, with blinding speed, he snatched both pistols from his belt, fired and then returned the pistols to his waist before an eye could blink.
Jack extended his right hand outward at the height of his shoulder. He opened his palm and the grip of the cutlass fell into it. Jack pointed the tip of the cutlass at Quashie.
Both wagon guards collapsed. Smoke billowed from the holes in their foreheads.
Quashie exploded forward, slashing and thrusting furiously with his twin machetes, the sickness dripping from them fouling the air.
Jack somersaulted sideways to his left as he swiped to his left with his cutlass.
Quashie grunted as Jack’s razor-sharp weapon carved a crooked smile into his biceps.
Jack dashed forward and then struck with a downward, diagonal forehand slash, followed by a downward, diagonal backhand slash – both aimed at Quashie’s shoulders – and then finished the vicious combination with a powerful thrust toward the rogue Maroon’s sternum.
Quashie lurched to his right and then to his left, evading the slashes. He crossed his blades and raised them, pushing Jack’s cutlass above his head.
Quashie countered, whipping his left machete around in a circular slashing motion toward Jack’s right hand.
Jack withdrew his hand, avoiding most of the force of Quashie’s strike. The blade grazed the flesh of his little and ring fingers, however, opening a small cut.
Jack hammered his left heel into Quashie’s abdomen.
Quashie staggered backward, clutching his belly. He dropped to his knees as agonizing pain coursed through his liver.
Jack peered at his hand. For such a superficial wound, his fingers hurt more than any pain he had ever felt in his life. They hurt even more than the lashes from the whip he had suffered at the hands of his former enslaver when he was a boy. His little and ring fingers had turned a grayish-pink and the nails had turned black.
Quashie struggled to his feet.
The pain in Jack’s right hand increased, feeling like jagged nails under his skin. It became difficult for him to focus.
Quashie leapt forward, raising his machetes above his head.
Jack leapt backward. He thrust forward with his cutlass. The tip of the weapon bit into Quashie’s clavicle, just missing his jugular vein.
Quashie craned his head backward, avoiding an even deeper cut. He landed where Jack had stood.
Shadows seemed to hold Jack aloft as they pulled him toward the hilltop.
“Wi will meet again, soon,” Jack said.
Yah, mon, wi will…T’ree Fingered Jack,” Quashie replied.
Jack faded into the shadows and was gone.
Jack lay upon a bed of leaves and flowers in a chamber in his cave. The sweet and minty smell of the flowers barely masked the fetid flesh of his withered, greenish-yellow fingers. Cold clawed its way up his spine. He shivered.
Tata Boukman squeezed a soaked rag over Jack’s lips. A light brown liquid dripped from it into Jack’s waiting mouth.
Juda ran into the room. He dropped to his knees before the Obi’Yah master.
“Stand up, boy,” Boukman Dutty commanded. “No time for formalities. This bitter cerace tea and this bed of herbs will fight off the fever, but those fingers are dead. I need to cut them off so the death in them doesn’t creep any further, but I need to make a poultice to put on it to kill the sickness in his blood and for it to close up.”
“Yes, Tata!” Juda replied, leaping to his feet.
“I hear you have learned to ride a horse better than some of our veterans.”
“That’s what they say, Tata.”
“I need you to ride to Spanish Town,” Boukman said. “There’s a saloon there. Go around back. A bottle of whiskey will be there, sitting on the left of the door. That’s what I need. Bring it back within two hours or we will lose our Field Marshal. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Tata,” Juda answered. “I won’t fail you or our Field Marshal.”
“I know you won’t, boy,” Boukman replied. “To do so would be to fail us all. Now go!”
Juda skittered backward out of the room, spun on his heels and sprinted away.
“Hang on, son,” Boukman said, squeezing more tea into Jack’s mouth. “Obi says it’s not your time to die.”
Darkness joined the cold in Jack’s spine. The light of the torches blurred, faded and then all was quiet.
Light crept between Jack’s eyelids. He opened his eyes. Boukman stared down at him, smiling. His head rested on something soft, warm and familiar. He tilted his head backward and looked up into Nesta’s beautiful face. She bent forward and kissed him.
“Welcome back, fi mi love,” Nesta said.
“How long was mi out?” Jack asked.
“Four days,” Nesta answered.
Jack brought his right hand before his face. His little finger and ring finger were gone. The area where they once were was now smooth and a shade lighter than the rest of his hand.
“Fi mi fingas…” he sighed.
“We could nah save dem,” Boukman said. “Dat bwai, Quashie, has some powerful death magic.”
“Mi am guh fi guh introduce him to death de next time wi meet,” – “I’m going to introduce him to death the next time we meet,” Jack said, sitting up. “Any sign of him?”
“None,” Nesta replied. “Him ah probably healin’, too. Or gloatin’; wi lost Moby, Vera an’ Boogs.”
“Mi know,” Jack said. “Dey took all but two of Babylon wid dem an’ mi sent dem two pon fi dem way, suh fi wi bruddas and sista died good deads.”
Jack stood up. “Nesta, mi am goin’ adoor to train. Bring mi fi mi cutlass, please.” – “Nesta, I am going outside to train. Bring me my cutlass, please.”
“Yuh just regained consciousness,” Nesta said. “Perhaps yuh should cease and sekkle.” – “Perhaps you should stop what you’re doing and relax.”
“Mi ‘av rested fah four days aredi,” – “I’ve rested for four days already,” Jack replied. “De bess preparation fah tomorrow ah doin’ fi yuh bess today.”
Jack sauntered out of the chamber and then out of the cave. The warriors on watch saluted him. It was quiet in the camp. Jack looked up at the sky. The moon was clothed in pink clouds, which told him dawn was near. He’d train until noon, take a short rest and then train until nightfall. His missing fingers would not be a hindrance. Obi’Yah blessed mi wid ten, he thought. Suh losin’ two ain’t nuh big deal.
Nesta ran outside. She outstretched her hands, presenting Jack with his cutlass.
“Here,” she said. “Do nah wuk too hawd; an’ drink plenty wata.”
“Yes, mudda,” Jack snickered, wrapping his fist around the cutlass’ grip. “T’ank yuh.”
Nesta smiled, turned back toward the cave and strode back inside.
Jack rotated his wrist, feeling the weight of the cutlass; familiarizing himself with how he now had to hold it to keep it steady in his hand. He slashed with it; thrust with it; twirled the weapon in front of his chest and above his head.
He jogged along the trail toward the forest just beyond the camp, where he would practice his strikes against the trees as he gathered wood for the torches and the bonfires.
Upon reaching the forest, Jack found Juda there, hunting ‘ball pates’ – the white crowned pigeons that had become a staple in the delicious stew eaten daily by the warriors – with his goat-hide sling.
“Field Marshal!” Jordan shouted upon seeing Jack. He ran to Jack and wrapped his arms around the giant’s waist. “Mi knew you would be a’right!”
“Yah, mon,” Jack replied. “Mi rememba yuh inna fi mi chamba an’ yuh acceptin’ de mission to get de whiskey fah fi mi poultice. Dat was brave of yuh an’, obviously, yuh accomplished fi yuh mission. Mi would ‘av died widout fi yuh help. T’ank yuh!”
Juda released his embrace and loaded another smooth stone into the sling. “Mi am guh fi guh kill twenty ball pates inna fi yuh honor.”
“’av at it den,” Jack said. “Mi am guh fi guh gatha some wood.”
Juda pointed skyward. A flock of pigeons soared high above them.
The boy whipped the sling above his head and then moved his arm in a circle, spinning the sling in a wide arc over him. He held his breath and then released one strap of the sling, sending the stone rocketing skyward, toward the pigeons. The stone struck one of the birds in the chest. The bird plummeted toward the earth.
Juda peered over his shoulder at Jack, beaming with pride.
“Good wuk, bwai,” Jack said. “Mi can taste dat twenty-pigeon-stew now!”
Juda dashed off into the dense forest to retrieve the ball pate.
A few seconds later, a boy’s scream came from deep within the forest.
“Juda!” Jack shouted as he stepped into the shadows, vanishing.
A moment later, he appeared at a clearing within the forest where the scouts would hide their supplies when off on missions.
Standing before him was Quashie, rubbing Juda’s shoulders from behind the boy.
“Let de bwai go!” Jack shouted, pointing his cutlass at the necromancer.
“Mi do nah follow fi yuh commands, T’ree Fingered Jack,” Quashie replied. “Juda nuh longa does eeda. Him works fi mi, now.”
Juda stared down at the ground.
Jack’s voice trembled as he called out to his protégé. “Juda?”
Juda looked up, staring at Jack through the tears which had began to stream down his doleful face. “Mi am suh sorry. When mi went to Spanish Town fah fi yuh whiskey, Quashie…um, Masta Quashie discovered mi. Him guaranteed fi mi freedom an’ two-hundred pounds sterlin’ if mi helped him bring fi yuh head to Governa Dallin’.”
“Suh, Juda has become Judas,” Jack hissed. “Afta I kill dis bag-o-wire, yuh had bess run, beanie bobo, ca’ if mi eva see yuh again, yuh a dead!” – “After I kill this traitor, you had best run, little fool, because if I ever see you again, you’re dead!”
“Step aside, Juda,” Quashie said, drawing his oozing machetes. “An’ watch fi yuh criss – new – masta wuk.”
Juda shuffled to the side.
Quashie leapt forward, slashing high and low with his cutlasses.
Jack evaded the deadly strikes with leaps, aerial twists and somersaults, slashing with his cutlass as he moved through the air like a synchronized swimmer in deep water.
The cutlass opened several deep wounds in Quashie’s arms. His hands shook violently as he struggled to hold on to his weapons.
Jack dropped into a low stance, stabbing downward with his blade. The point, and a few inches beyond it, sank into Quashie’s shoe.
Quashie howled as steel tore through his foot.
Jack slammed his knuckles into the small bones on the back of Quashie’s right hand like a man knocking on a door. A sickening crunch accompanied the back of Quashie’s hand collapsing inward.
The machete fell from Quashie’s fingers and landed between his feet.
Quashie swung the machete in his left hand at Jack’s neck. Jack chopped into Quashie’s forearm with the dense bones of both of his wrists, blocking the blow as he attacked the nerves in Quashie’s arm.
Quashie dropped his remaining weapon. His arm fell lifeless at his side.
Jack yanked his cutlass out of Quashie’s foot. He raised the weapon above his head. “I’ll deliver your corpse to Nanny for burning and I’ll bury those foul swords of yours. Any last…”
Something hard crashed into Jack’s left temple. He staggered sideways. His vision blurred. He snapped his head toward the left. Juda stood in the distance, loading another stone into his sling. Jack beat back the encroaching darkness and lunged forward, driving his cutlass deep into Quashie’s belly.
Sputum and blood sprayed from Quashie’s mouth. He fell to his knees.
Another stone struck Jack just below his left ear. The world tilted and then began to spin. Jack collapsed onto his back. He stared up at the sky. It was now a beautiful light blue, but it was rapidly turning darker, becoming dark blue, then cobalt gray, then black.
Jack shuddered once, and then lay still.
Juda ran to Jack and knelt beside him, sobbing.
“Nuh!” Quashie commanded. “Leave him! Hand mi fi mi weapons!”
Juda jumped to his feet. He grabbed Quashie’s machetes, careful not to touch the putrid blood seeping from them. He squeezed the grips. He wanted badly to end Quashie’s life, but decided he would wait until he had gained Quashie’s trust. It would be easier then. He handed the weapons to his master.
Quashie crawled to jack, leaving a trail of his blood and the bile-filled blood form his weapons, behind him. He held one of the machetes above Jack’s neck.
“Oh, great muddas and fahdas of de grave,” he began. “Mi gi’ fi mi eternal gratitude fuh dis victory. Receive fi yuh son, Jack Mansong, well. An’ when him returns, mek sure him comes back fightin’ pon fi wi side!” – “I give my eternal gratitude for this victory. Receive your son, Jack Mansong, well. And when he returns, make sure he comes back fighting on our side!”
Quashie brought down the machete upon Jack’s neck and the life of one of the greatest heroes the world has ever known came to an end.
But, at the same time, one of our greatest legends was born.
The Legend of Three-Finger’d Jack.