Jack was sleeping, it seemed, because he was very still and very silent. Elizabeth couldn't see his face from where she sat with her back to the cell wall and her knees pulled up in front of her, but his wounds were vivid in the guttering torchlight and she watched in horrible fascination as blood spread like ink against the torn shirt that pooled about him on the floor. Despite the warmth of the night, it felt dank and chill inside the gaol and she thought he must be cold.
She'd considered draping her coat over him, but then thought that it might cause him more pain and that it would be better for the wounds to dry somewhat. Not that she knew anything about the treatment of such injuries, but, as a child, Nanny had always schooled her to keep her skinned knees clean and dry, and she supposed it was a universal principle.
She was startled from her thoughts by a soft voice from the bottom of the stairs, and when she looked up her heart skipped a beat. "James...!" Scrambling to her feet she dashed across the cell, clinging to the bars. "James, you must help us."
He looked just as he used to, in the days before Jack Sparrow and any of this madness. His uniform was immaculate, his face stern and calm – barely recognisable as the rum-pot deckhand he had once, briefly, been. "I knew he would lead you to this," James said stiffly, his gaze alighting on Jack before returning to her. "I would have treated you better."
"You think this is Jack's fault?" She drew back, remembering suddenly that this was not the upright gentleman she had once known. "Cutler Beckett wants us all dead, don't you see?"
"He wants pirates dead, if they will not obey the law. The law, I might add, passed by the King and his parliament and fully supported by the people of these colonies."
She backed away from the bars, feeling the blood drain from her face. "You're working for him."
"I'm an Admiral in the Royal Navy; I follow orders, Miss Swann."
"No matter what they are? Or what kind of monster gives them?"
"It's a question of duty. I don't expect you to understand why I did what I did, but I hope you—"
She gasped suddenly, the awful and inevitable truth dawning. "Oh James, you gave him the heart, didn't you? You stole it from Jack, condemned him to death – condemned us all to death! – and then gave the heart to Beckett."
The hauteur that spread across his features could not hide the devastation of the good man she still saw within. "I had no choice."
"There's always a choice!" she exclaimed. "You could have stayed, you could have fought with us! Together, we would have beaten Jones..."
"And then what?" He was calm as a mill pond. "I would have joined Sparrow's crew? Sharpened my cutlass and turned pirate? I hardly think so." He drew closer. "Don't you see? This was the only way to reclaim the life he stole."
"And what of my father's life?" Her voice cracked, no matter how ruthlessly she pressed down on her grief. "His life can never be reclaimed."
James was milk white, his eyes sharp points of brightness. "I admit, I had not expected Lord Beckett to be so—" He swallowed hard. "I'm truly sorry, Elizabeth. Your father was a good man, and a good friend."
"Empty words, James." She backed further away, into the shadows, and bent to kneel at Jack's side. "You're Beckett's creature now, and my father's blood is on your hands as surely as if you'd—" She couldn't finish the sentence, couldn't give voice to that murderous moment. "If you will not help us, then you had better leave."
He was silent and unmoving for a long time until, as if shaking himself from a dream, he said, "I'm sorry, Elizabeth, but I did what was necessary. I hope, one day, you can find it in your heart to forgive me my weakness, as I have forgiven yours."
She looked up but did not answer.
"I will send water, bandages, and a fresh shirt," he said stiffly. "Every man should be able to face his death with dignity, after all."
Ignoring the tight-lipped crew, Will Turner paced the deck of the Black Pearl as he considered his options.
Go ashore and find Elizabeth, leaving the Pearl – and their escape route – in the treacherous hands of Barbossa? Or send another in his stead to save Elizabeth, and keep the ship safely under his command?
For it was clear that the trap had been sprung and Elizabeth captured – just as Jack had predicted. Will could only hope that, with Jack in his clutches, Beckett would show some lenience toward the Governor and his daughter. But it was a thin hope, unsupported by a shred of evidence, and everything he knew about Beckett told him the opposite. Leniency was not in the man’s nature. Which meant, in all probability, that Elizabeth faced the noose…
"I'm going ashore," he announced, eying Barbossa. "The Pearl is yours."
Tia Dalma laughed that wild laugh of hers. "De Black Pearl not yours to give away, hmm?"
"Time enough for that later, boy.” Barbossa stepped closer, head cocked. “We'll divide the plunder when the battle's won, and not before. So says the Code."
Will folded his arms across his chest. "Do you expect me to believe that you won't sail the moment the longboat hits the water?"
Barbossa's crooked-toothed grin was yellow in the moonlight. "I don't care what you believe, but know this, boy; Cutler Beckett ain't the only one who needs Jack Sparrow." For an insane moment, Will thought Barbossa was referring to Elizabeth and he felt a coursing anger flush his face. But then the old pirate chuckled. "Did ye think I came back from the dead just to steal his ship?"
In truth, he supposed he had. "Why, then?"
Tia Dalma smiled. "Why else indeed, hmm? Jack Sparrow have him own fate, as you have yours, William Turner. And one cannot come to pass without de other."
He dismissed the witch-woman's talk of destiny with a wave of his hand. "All I care about is Elizabeth. She's the only reason I'm here."
"Is she?" Tia Dalma's expression was curious, her fingers dancing a little magic.
He cut her a suspicious glance. "Everything I have done has been for Elizabeth, and once we are free of...of pirates...I shall devote my life to her happiness."
"Then you'd best get yerself ashore," Barbossa growled. "For the sun's on her way, and they likes to do their hanging at dawn."
One glance at the faint blue of the horizon confirmed Barbossa’s words, and Will made his decision. "You'll wait for us," he said, leaping onto the rail. The longboat bobbed in the water below, tethered to the Pearl yet seeming to yearn for the shore. "Wait for us, or rue the day we ever met."
Barbossa's eyes widened, and then he laughed expansively. "I'm shiverin' at the thought, lad. Shiverin' at the very thought."
Perhaps half an hour after James had left, a soldier came carrying a basket full of military bandages and a tin bowl of warmed water, tinted with something astringent. Elizabeth took them wordlessly.
"Terrible business, Miss Swann," the marine said, and she thought she vaguely remembered his face. Beaumont was it? "Very sorry to hear about Governor Swann. Terrible wickedness in these parts."
"Thank you, Beaumont." His eyes lit up when she said his name, telling her she'd remembered correctly. "I hope your daughters are both well?"
He blinked in surprise. "Aye, very well, miss."
There was a pause, and then she said, "Thank you for your kindness."
Elizabeth stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Take care of your family, Beaumont. These are dark days, we must all protect those we love." Her father's face swam before her eyes and she blinked, offering Beaumont a watery smile. "Keep a sharp eye, you never know when circumstances will change."
When he was gone, disappearing up the stairs like a man escaping perdition, she turned to kneel once more at Jack's side. He'd not stirred in an hour and she hesitated to wake him. However, his wounds must be bound if they stood any chance of being ready when Will came for them.
And she had no doubt – none at all – that Will would come.
"Jack?" She touched his shoulder. "Jack, can you hear me?"
"Not bloody deaf," he said softly, turning his head to look at her. And suddenly she knew he'd been awake the whole time. "So it was Norrington, then?"
"So it seems." She took a soft cloth from the basket and dipped it into the water, wringing it out a little. "This may sting."
"I—" His words were cut off by a hiss of breath sucked through his teeth. "Bloody hell."
Her hand was shaking as he arched away from the press of the cloth, but she kept her voice mild. "Don't be such a child," she chided. "This will help it heal."
He didn't answer, but she could see the muscles of his back clenching, saw tendons bunch in his arms, hands balling into fists. "Tell me about Beckett," she said hurriedly. "Tell me why he hates you so much."
After a moment, and in a strained voice, he said, "Hates bloody everyone."
"But you particularly," Elizabeth said. "What did you do to him, Jack?"
"Who says I did anything?" And then, beneath his breath, "Jesus."
She wrung the bloody cloth out in the water, and carried on ruthlessly with her ministrations. "You're Captain Jack Sparrow," she said, forcing lightness into her voice. "Of course you did something. Did you steal from him? Humiliate him?"
"Nothing he didn’t deserve."
She smiled, a genuine smile of sorts. "Tell me, then. Tell me the tale."
He grunted. "Tis a dark and twisted one, love. Not sure it's suitable for such maidenly ears as your own."
"Very well," he said, "if you'll stop that infernal dabbing."
"When I'm finished," she agreed mildly. "How was it you first came to know him? Where was it you met...?"
"In Elmina, on the Gold Coast."
"And I was in need of work and money, and he had both."
Elizabeth paused in her cleaning of his wounds. "You worked for him?"
"That's the least shocking part of the tale, love."
She smiled and dropped the rag into the bowl; the water was red now, but his back, at least, was a little cleaner. "Can you sit up?"
"How will you be able to run if I don't bind your wounds?"
He grimaced, she could see it where his head rested on his arm. "That would be when young William comes to your rescue, would it?"
"To our rescue."
"Love, don't you know he wants the Pearl for himself? To save old Bootstrap from the Dutchman. He's probably sailed already."
"He won’t leave us here," she said, and tried not to remember Will's warning that night upon the Haitian beach. But his voice came to her anyway, distant and dark: You should know that I plan to set my father free. Once we have the Pearl, I will go after the Dutchman. No matter what Jack Sparrow has to say on the matter. She took a breath. “Sit up.”
Jack grunted and, with effort, pushed himself upright; Elizabeth winced at the pain it cost him. He was breathless and sweating by the time he was settled and, in a rough whisper, said, "Get on with it, then."
Carefully, she unwrapped one of the bandages and began to wind it about his shoulder and beneath one arm; she was so close that she could hear the harsh rattle of his breath and feel an unnatural heat from his skin. He was fevered.
"So, you worked for the East India Company?" she asked, glad of the distraction; Jack's proximity was unravelling memories best left undisturbed.
"Until their price became too high."
He lifted a hand and pressed it hard to his brow. "Are you nearly done?"
"Nearly. What price, Jack?"
"Do you know what they trade, chiefly, from the Gold Coast?"
She did, but nonetheless she said, "Gold?"
"Aye, the sort what walks on two legs. Anyway, I'd have nothing to do with that, would never play a part in stealing any man's freedom."
She smiled. "That's because you're a good man."
"I'm not," he said quickly. "Don't wish to be, neither, so don't think you can flatter me with those honeyed words."
And then, of course, she remembered how she'd seduced him to his death. "It's not a weakness," she said quietly, "even when others exploit it."
"Isn't it?" His voice was brittle now, from the pain and from something else. He sounded different. "Could have made a tidy profit, like everyone else. Could have lived like a bloody king, but no. Those weeping, shivering wretches implored me with their silent eyes and Jack Sparrow – fool that he bloody well was – set them free. Beckett wanted me flayed alive for it."
"But you weren't. What did you do?"
"Buggered him senseless, of course." There was a pause. "That's not a figure of speech, love."
Elizabeth found herself stock still, the bandage dangling from one hand. "You— You and—
Jack glanced over his shoulder, a gleam of gold in his insolent smile. "Shocked you now, eh?" Then he shrugged and turned back around. "So happened I was what he wanted most in the world. Could hardly fail to capitalise on such an opportune situation, could I?"
"You... Your compass told you that?"
"That, and the fact he couldn't bloody walk straight if I so much as fluttered me lashes in his direction. Still can't, it seems."
Despite everything, Elizabeth felt heat rise into her cheeks. "Jack!"
He snorted softly. "And there was you thinking I was a good man."
"So you seduced him?" It hardly seemed possible, and she shrank from the image it painted in her mind – shrank from it, even as she peeked through her fingers.
"Seduced implies rather more effort than what was required," Jack sighed. "But, yes. Got him into a rare old sweat and he got me a pardon and a Letter of Marque, me and the Pearl. Not that I had any intention of dancing to his tune no more, but seems I made something of a miscalculation in not keeping that little nugget of information to me self."
She'd finished tying the bandages now, tucking the last end in and pulling a rather fine shirt from the bottom of the basket James had sent. One of his own, she imagined. "Here," she said, holding it for Jack. "Put this on."
He eyed it for a moment, then lifted an arm with a grimace and slipped it into the sleeve. "Seems Norrington still carries a torch for you, Lizzie."
"Or perhaps for you?" she smiled, pulling the shirt over his head.
"He's not the type."
Dressed again, his wounds hidden, Jack looked more himself. He was very pale though, which added a strange starkness to his eyes. "You should lie down," she said.
"Don't you want to know what happened next?" He nodded toward the window. "Dawn's almost with us, you might never hear how it all turns out."
"Did he hunt you down, then?" She hugged her knees to her chest and watched him. "Did you trick him, escape from beneath his nose?"
"Not quite. See, I'd tossed his precious Letter of Marque into the dock before I sailed, and, of course he found it, didn't he? Took it rather more personally than I'd intended."
"Oh, Jack," she smiled. "You broke his heart."
That seemed to give him pause. "Perhaps." He frowned down at the cell floor. "Didn't give it much thought at the time, just wanted a way out, but maybe I did somewhat earn his resentment. Either way, he wanted me dead."
He glanced up, lashes dark lace against the pallor of his face. "He almost got his way." Lifting his arm, he pulled back his sleeve to reveal the brand. "Gave me this, a beating, and worse, then cast me adrift without a drop to drink." There was a pause. "And he scuppered the Pearl. Made me watch as he sent her down in flames."
Suddenly there was a chill in the air that had nothing to do with the damp of the gaol. In a whisper, Elizabeth said, "That's when you met Jones..."
"The hopeless draw him, Lizzie; he feeds on misery, on fear and fading hope. And right then, with the Pearl sunk and that thirst upon me...? Well, I felt the cold touch of death and a hundred years before the mast seemed but a small price for thirteen years of life – thirteen years at the helm of the Pearl."
Silence fell between them and Elizabeth was struck by the idea that she had woven herself into Jack's story like a silver thread atop patterns so dense and complex she could not hope to understand them. "I was just eight," she said. "Thirteen years ago, I was a child in England."
He grunted softly. "Little did I know me doom wore such a face."
"All this time, all these years, and still he hates you..." Her gaze drifted out beyond the cell, to the stone steps that would lead to freedom, if only she could reach them. "I think, perhaps, he could not hate you so much if he didn't still love you a little."
Jack lifted his head, but didn't catch her eye, casting a rueful smile at their cell's barred window. "It's surprising how often the two coincide."
Continued in Chapter Ten