The surf was cool around her feet and she curled her toes into the soft, yielding sand. Behind her, the trees burned. Elizabeth knew he was there before he spoke, his presence warm at her back, and suddenly she was afraid to turn round - afraid of what she might see. What did a drowned man look like?
"I came to find you," she said. "To bring you back."
"Alone?" His breath was a ghost against her neck.
"No, I..." She scanned the beach, but found it empty, and no sails were visible against the vibrant blue sky. "There were others... I'm sure..."
"Just you and me now, love."
Elizabeth sighed and closed her eyes, lulled by the gentle heat, the soft hush of the water upon the shore, the sad cry of the gulls. Then his hand was upon her arm, turning her towards him. Still, though, she couldn't look at his face and instead focused on the folds of his open shirt, the material pale against the dark skin of his chest. Raising her hand, she gently pulled open the collar, her fingers grazing the puckered, blackened marks on his shoulder.
"You have scars," she said. His hand gripped her wrist, but he made no move to shy away from her touch. "Do they hurt?"
"Not nearly so much as the final one. My lips fair sting with the pain of it."
"No." His voice was harder now. "I'll not hear those words from you. Not while you hold that in your hand."
Elizabeth frowned, confused, and then realised something wet and fleshy lay in her palm. Her gaze fell to her right hand and she saw that, in her grasp, she held a beating heart. Blood poured from it with every pulse, over her hand and down her arm, dripping from her elbow in dark jewels. She stared at it a while, as if it was a thing of curiosity, and then looked up again at Jack's chest; an ugly wound gaped there, red and black. Her skirts flapped in the sullen breeze, like sailcloth around her legs; a droplet fell upon the sand, blossoming dark across the gold. "Is this mine now?" she asked, but he gave no answer.
"It won't heal, y'know. Even if you put it back," he said.
"I have to try."
His hands found her face then, rough and calloused, yet tender.
"So try," he whispered, and finally she raised her eyes. Will's stricken face looked back.
"Elizabeth." The relief was palpable in his voice. With a loving caress, he smoothed her wet hair back from her face and wiped away the coarse grains of sand that clung to her cheek. Tentatively, she rose from the ground, feeling light-headed and disorientated.
"What happened? Where are we?" Though her voice was still cracked and hoarse, Elizabeth realised that the intolerable thirst had dissipated.
"Beyond the edge of the map now, Miss Swann," came Barbossa's hearty reply. Elizabeth looked around, taking in their surroundings. They were on a beach, all of the crew present, shaking water from their hair and looking just as baffled as she felt. This was not, however, the sunlit beach of her dream, but a silent stretch of grey sand, bathed in twilight and shrouded by an eerie fog that drifted in from a black sea. The boat had sunk; she was certain of that, could still taste the salt water in her mouth and feel the spectre of desolation as it engulfed her, just before the blackness came.
"Did we drown?"
"There be only one way to reach the Locker, lass. All hope must be forsaken, for what use is hope to a dead man?"
"Jack Sparrow be no dead man." Elizabeth turned at the sound of Tia Dalma's voice, her words sharp and loud in this barren place where all sound seemed muted. "Him beyond de realm of de living, dat true, but den him always walk in de shadows at de edge of de world."
"Then where is the captain?" asked Gibbs, tucking his hands under his arms and shivering, though Elizabeth could feel neither cold nor heat. But the look he shot her was icy, and she wondered if anger had chilled his very blood in this strange and haunted place.
Turning away from his recrimination, Elizabeth fixed her attention on Tia Dalma's cryptic smile.
"Der is some distance to go," the witch told her, "before him found."
"Well, then let's move," said Will with determination and made to walk up the beach, away from the sea, until Tia Dalma's firm hand on his chest halted him in his tracks.
"Only one shall continue from here."
"I ain't setting foot in that ungodly fog," piped up Ragetti, cowering at the back of the group. Gibbs narrowed his eyes.
"Then I shall go," said Will, resolutely. "I'll bring back Jack bloody Sparrow from whatever hell he's condemned himself to."
But Tia Dalma shook her head. "This be de path of another, blacksmith. You walk your own in time, hmm?" The woman turned to address the small group huddled on the shore, but her eyes, black as pitch, were fixed on Elizabeth. "Only one among you have de blood of Witty Jack upon your hand, and only dat hand can bring him back. But first you must walk in him footsteps and know de agony of him passing."
Elizabeth closed her eyes, her heart heavy in her chest, as understanding dawned.
"You,” growled Gibbs, striding up to stand in front of her; she forced herself to meet his angry stare. "You’re the one. Who else should bring the captain back but she who betrayed him to his death?"
"No!" cried Will. "I won't allow it."
And suddenly Elizabeth felt a flash of irritation. Will! So foolish, so headstrong, but so naïve. What did he know of sin or penance? When had he ever had cause to look into the eyes of a man he'd just condemned to death and see his own damnation reflected back?
Gibbs was right, this was her path and she would walk it. She approached Tia Dalma. "How will I find the way?"
"Will, you have no say in this."
"Will." Her tone was firm and she cut him an angry glare, stilling his tongue. Instantly, she regretted her coldness as he stepped back from her, his mouth set into a familiar hard line; she could feel that barrier rising once more and felt powerless to break it down. Can't we start again? she wanted to say to him. Can't we go back to how things were? But the world kept turning no matter how much they tried to lean against the spin and, right now, she had a task ahead of her.
"How will I find the way?" she pressed Tia Dalma, but the witch merely shrugged.
"Jus' walk. De way find you soon enough."
And so Elizabeth turned to face the fog and, with a deep sense of foreboding, stepped into the thick grey pall.
Admiral James Norrington boarded the Endeavour with some degree of trepidation, and at the specific behest of Lord Cutler Beckett. For all his high rank within the East India Company, Beckett was not a man of the sea and it seemed that Admiral Norrington was the only naval officer he trusted to command his flagship.
James had no illusions as to the root of his trust, however, and took neither pride nor pleasure in it. He owed the restoration of his rank and reputation to Cutler Beckett, and the man could take them away just as readily. In truth, James was no less in thrall to Lord Beckett, than Lord Beckett was to the sugar barons of the East India Company. In their own ways, they had each sold their souls for the sake of power and influence and James wasn't sure who he despised most.
But it was pointless, he told himself, to dwell on such musings. He had made his choice on Isla Cruces and must now live with the consequences of that choice. And yet... And yet, as he stepped onto the deck of the Endeavour, he glanced up at the looming fortress of Port Royal and found himself thinking of the man who sat in its stinking gaol. No pirate, no thief, no murderer, but a good man – and, once, a good friend – Governor Weatherby Swann was the beloved father of a woman who lingered still in his heart, no matter how long ago she had forfeited that right.
That Beckett had the temerity – the downright nerve – to hold the Governor captive, to hang him as a common criminal... Norrington could scarcely believe it, and every day he expected dispatches to come from London, sparing Governor Swann and reining in Beckett's power. But none came, whether from ignorance of the situation or from indifference to Beckett's methods, Norrington didn't know. With each day without word from London, James' heart sank a little further and the shadow of his regret grew longer and deeper. If he had not placed Jones' heart into Beckett's wicked hands, if he had not given the man this obscene power over the seas... Beckett, of all people! A man who saw the great oceans of the world as nothing more than trade routes and never once took pleasure in a fair day's sailing.
Roused from his dismal thoughts, Norrington turned to the lieutenant who stood before him offering a salute. "What is it, Beaumont?"
"Lord Beckett's asking for you, sir."
"He's aboard already?"
"Aye, sir. In the Great Cabin, as usual."
Norrington spared a scant smile for the subtle jibe. Beckett rarely appeared on deck, preferring to keep himself to himself, a fact the crew attributed to rampant sea sickness. James suspected other, darker, causes, but didn't miss the suspicion with which his men treated Cutler Beckett. News of former Governor Swann's impending execution had spread fast and, even within the disciplined ranks of the King's navy, disquiet was beginning to simmer. It was a fact that made James at once proud and wary, and something upon which he was determined to keep a careful eye.
He looked across the ship's scrubbed deck – tried not to remember scrubbing the decks of Sparrow's wretched ship – and stared for a long moment at the closed doors of the Endeavour's Great Cabin. What their current mission might be, he could not tell, for Beckett had told him nothing of their purpose in leaving Port Royal. Yet he suspected it had something – or everything – to do with the intercepted letter from Elizabeth, and the news that Jack Sparrow might be somewhat less dead than Jones had led them to believe.
What Beckett's interest in Sparrow might be, Norrington could only surmise. Nevertheless, it was enough to draw Cutler Beckett out from the safety of the Governor’s mansion – and to require the summoning, once more, of the vile captain of the Flying Dutchman.
The whispering was the thing Elizabeth noticed first; a low susurrus that surrounded her, engulfed her, but at the same time was always on the edge of her hearing. Then she saw the shapes. Shadows through the mist; head, shoulders, limbs, the definite outline of figures, but never close enough for her to see clearly. Though the whispers were still hushed and indistinct, she could feel the overwhelming need that permeated this dead place. The ghosts in the fog had but one supplication... Do not forget us, do not forget us. Elizabeth wondered if there was anyone left to remember.
It seemed she walked for hours, yet she felt no weariness and neither hunger nor thirst troubled her. I might wander forever, she thought. Just fade into the fog, one more ghost among their number. And then she saw it. Through the murky haze, a light had appeared. There was no pattern to its movements; it swung randomly, back and forth, up and down, and Elizabeth became convinced that there was someone up ahead carrying a lantern. "Hello?" she called, flinching at the sound of her voice as it pierced the silence of the misty wasteland. "Can you hear me?"
But the lantern bearer gave no reply and showed no signs of stopping. The light faded and then disappeared completely and Elizabeth was gripped by a sudden panic that, without this small flame to guide her, she would be lost here for eternity, fogbound amongst the whispering denizens of the Locker.
De way find you soon enough...
She began to run. "Wait! Please wait!" she called after her mysterious guide, though the light had disappeared completely from view. Soon she began to wonder if perhaps she'd got herself turned around somewhere and was running in the wrong direction and, just when it seemed her legs could carry her no further, the fog dissipated; she found herself surrounded by lush vegetation that reminded her of the forests back on Port Royal. Up ahead, a boy sat cross legged upon a rock; a lamp, now doused, sat by his feet.
"There you are!" he said, looking up with a smile. His accent was coarse and stirred a memory of small, dirty faces peering through the snow, grubby, outstretched hands reaching up at the side of her father's carriage. "Blimey, you didn't 'alf take your time. Thought you might've got lost in there." The boy couldn't have been more than thirteen, skinny, but with the promise of being handsome one day; a mop of dark, unruly hair was cut haphazardly about his ears and his eyes sparkled with mischief. A scamp, she thought her father would have called him, though there was an openness to his demeanour, something honest and completely without guile. Though Elizabeth was certain she did not know this boy, she knew instinctively that she could trust him.
"What's your name?" she asked, but the boy only squinted at her as if she'd asked the distance to the moon, so she said, "Can you help me?"
"I 'eard tell you was looking for summink. That right?"
"Yes," she replied, stepping forward eagerly. "Yes, I'm looking for—"
But the boy cut her off with a wave of his slender hand. "You don't wanna be telling me what it is. That's none of my business, is that." He climbed down from the rock. "But I tell you what. There's a place near 'ere where you might find whatever treasure it is you seek. All things lost usually end up there sooner or later."
"Can you tell me where it is?"
"I'll do better than that, miss. I'll take you there meself." His bright expression faded suddenly, and he looked around him with some measure of unease. "Wouldn't do to 'ave you wandering round 'ere on your own. There's some right queer characters about this place. Dodgy folk, if you catch my meaning. They think me a fool, but I ain't. Wouldn't like to think on what they might do..." His words tailed off and he turned back to Elizabeth, his cheery smile appearing once more. "Well then, we'd best be off, eh?"
"Thank you for helping me," Elizabeth said, as they set off further into the forest. She found the young boy's attempts at chivalry endearing, if a little misplaced. It was doubtful he'd be able to defend her from whatever queer characters lurked in the forest, given that he carried not even a sword at his side. Rather than being her protector, Elizabeth surmised that if they were assailed by any such characters the situation would be quite the reverse. "If there's anything I can do to repay you..."
The boy's face lit up. "You wouldn't have any rum, would you?"
Elizabeth couldn't help but laugh at the request.
"What?" demanded the lad, aggrieved. "You think I ain't old enough to be drinking rum? I been drinking it since I were a nipper. Could drink you under the table, love!"
Biting her cheek to keep from laughing, Elizabeth shook her head solemnly. "I'm sure you could, but I'm afraid I don't have any rum."
The boy's shoulders sagged and his face fell. "Should've known before I asked. There's never any bloody rum in this bloody place. They ain't ever got any neither." He looked so crestfallen that Elizabeth was filled with a sudden sympathy for this young boy. How long had he been here? Was he just another spectre from the fog? Or was it his eternal duty to shepherd to their goal what few travellers must pass though this place? She reached out and took his hand, in the hopes that it would offer some comfort to the poor lad. He turned to her, unsmiling, his dark eyes intense and for a moment...
"Who are you?" she whispered. His lips parted, but before he could speak a fierce roar came from behind them. Elizabeth whirled round, sword drawn, just in time to see a huge figure bursting from the undergrowth. His face was hidden beneath a wild mane of black hair and a thick, unkempt beard, but the one thing she could see clearly was the blood-stained dagger he brandished in front of him.
"Oh no..." The boy dropped her hand, falling back in alarm as the man lunged towards them; Elizabeth found herself knocked to the ground, sword wrenched from her grasp. The man then threw himself upon her young companion and pressed the knife to his throat.
"You would help her?" he growled. "You would show her the way?" But the boy was stricken by fear and unable to speak. The man struck him, a vicious blow across the face. "You fool, when you know what she is!"
"Please!" cried Elizabeth, eyes searching the undergrowth for her weapon, but it was lost amidst the tangle of leaves. "Please don't hurt him! He doesn't know me, I swear. I asked for his help."
At that the man began to laugh, a nasty, bitter sound, as he dragged the helpless boy to his feet by his hair. "Doesn't know you?" he said, with contempt. "We all know you here. We know the stench of you!"
"No," whispered Elizabeth, drawing back. "You can't know me. You can't."
"Leave here!" spat the stranger and suddenly his blade was at the boy's throat again. "Go back the way you came. There is nothing for you here. All is dead in this place, there is nothing more for you to do."
"I can't," said Elizabeth through gritted teeth. Was this a trick? Some delirium conjured up by the Locker; another dream sent to taunt her?
"Leave here or I cut his gullet open and spill his blood."
Elizabeth froze. She couldn't leave without Jack, couldn't let this voyage be for naught. But if this creature was true to his word...? Could phantoms die? If all was dead, could the boy be killed again? As if in answer to her silent question, the man drew the blade lightly across the boy's throat, causing him to cry out in terror as blood began trickling down his neck. Elizabeth knew then, that phantom or not, she would see this boy's throat tear open and hear his screams of pain if she did not turn back. What choice did she have?
"Please don't leave me," sobbed the boy, tears coursing down his face. "Don't leave me..."
"I'm sorry," she whispered, walking backwards, further into the forest. "I'm sorry. There's no other way..."
"I expected no less," muttered the man, bitterly, and pulled on the boy’s hair, exposing his throat. Then suddenly, he froze.
"Let him go," rumbled a low voice.
The bearded man snarled in anger. "You!" he hissed, dropping the knife from the boy's throat but refusing to relinquish it altogether. The lad fell to the ground, clutching at his bleeding neck. Elizabeth looked on as from behind their assailant stepped a black clad figure, hat pulled low over his eyes and scarf obscuring the lower half of his face. He had a pistol pointed at their attacker's head.
"Go," he said to the boy, with a flick of his head. The boy scrambled to his feet, eager to flee. But, before he made his escape, he caught Elizabeth's eye, and upon his youthful face was etched such hurt and betrayal that she had to look away.
"Why do you insist on protecting him?" the bearded man growled at the newcomer.
"He's a fool."
"Perhaps it is us who are fools, to have let youth escape us so easily."
"Pah!" sneered the first man. He gestured to Elizabeth. "He was helping this one. Surely even you are not blind to what she is." And for the first time, the masked man turned to look at her. For a moment, he stilled and, though his eyes were in shadow, Elizabeth could tell he was watching her carefully. Then he gave a soft laugh.
"I daresay she would manage fine without his help." There was a gentleness to his voice and Elizabeth thought she sensed something akin almost to admiration. She held his gaze and smiled hesitantly, but it was then that she realised they had both made a grave mistake. For while their attention was diverted, the bearded man lunged forward, knocking the pistol from the other's hand; with a sickening sound, he drove his dagger into the masked man's stomach.
"No!" Elizabeth screamed and leapt forward, but the bearded man had already bounded off into the undergrowth. His wounded adversary collapsed onto the ground and lay still, the dagger protruding from his middle. As she ran toward him, she saw that his chest still rose and fell with shallow breaths and she fell to her knees at his side, not knowing what she could do to help. Remembering the young boy's face, she only knew that she couldn't leave him here to die alone.
"You mustn't tarry." The man's voice was hoarse and his breathing laboured. Elizabeth reached up to remove his mask, that he might draw breath more easily, but a gloved hand closed around her wrist. "You mustn't tarry. Up ahead, in the clearing... There's a cave. The mouth of the demon... You'll find there whatever it is you seek."
"I can't leave you," said Elizabeth, struggling against the tears she knew were close. How absurd to weep over this stranger. And yet wasn't she responsible for his fate? "I can't leave you here alone. Not after you saved us."
But the man shook his head. "My fate is my own. Now go. Before the others are upon you."
He let go of her wrist and, reluctantly, she stood.
"The mouth of the demon..." The words were his last, whispered as his eyes closed and his chest stilled.
Elizabeth swallowed and steeled herself, before turning back to the path through the wilderness. Don't look back, don't look back...
It wasn't the first time she had chanted that litany to herself and, just as before, there was a moment of weakness, one brief instant when she faltered... But then, as now, her resolve hardened and she focussed her gaze on the path ahead, sparing not a single glance for the man she'd left behind.
As she walked, Elizabeth was barely aware that the undergrowth was thinning around her until she found herself in a clearing; up ahead a soaring cliff face rose into the sky, its summit invisible amongst the overhanging grey clouds. Then she saw it - the mouth of the demon. A cave, like an open maw, loomed before her, surrounded by teeth of jagged rock; its name could hardly have been more fitting. And, if all things were to be believed, Jack Sparrow was inside.
With sword drawn and jaw set, Elizabeth strode into the mouth of the demon and let the blackness swallow her.
Continued in Chapter Five