Cutler Beckett had risen early, bathed, and readied himself for the day.
It was a day that would live in history, or so he’d thought; the day British justice finally dispatched the infamous, insolent Captain Jack Sparrow.
His dreams that night had been dark, however; a twisted mingling of death and desire. Somehow, though he’d seen Sparrow’s neck broken and his seducer’s eyes lifeless in the noose, he’d still felt the scald of the man’s lips whispering beautiful lies against his skin and had woken damp and frustrated in the Caribbean heat, praying for morning.
Sparrow’s death, he’d hoped, would release him from such torture.
But it was not to be.
For the day was less than an hour old and already James Norrington sat slumped in a chair opposite Beckett’s desk, his nose dripping blood onto his britches and his left eye swollen shut like a clam.
Keeping a firm hand on his temper, Beckett said, “And they were laying in wait?”
“So it seems.” Norrington sounded bitter, something returning of the man who had crawled from the gutter into his office, Jones’ heart beating in a grubby sack. “Your men didn’t drive off their ship.”
Beckett ignored the criticism; his only desire had been the capture of Sparrow, he’d left other details to Mercer. “These pirates are growing bold.” He rose, pacing to the window. After a moment, he couldn’t help asking, “Sparrow struck you?”
“Yes.” There was no mistaking the fury in the man’s voice. “And with no bloody warning.”
A strange sensation curled in the pit of Beckett’s belly; he hesitated to call it excitement. “You cannot expect a man such as Sparrow to obey a gentleman’s rules of engagement.” Briefly, his eyes closed and he imagined the force of that blow, the feel of ringed fingers against flesh – the wicked gleam in Sparrow’s eyes as he raced toward his so called freedom.
A Letter of Marque? Languid and beautiful, he lounged amid crisp white sheets and offered a rare, beguiling smile. I’d be forever in your debt, mate...
Free as a fox pursued by hounds.
“They’ll be long gone by now,” Norrington said. “Sparrow’s ship is the fastest in the Caribbean.”
“Speed is of less consequence,” Beckett mused, “when we know their destination.”
“And how do we know that?” Norrington seemed surprised, and not entirely pleased.
“Let’s just say, your former fiancée was most distressed by Sparrow’s…pain.”
Norrington glowered and Beckett well understood his anger – betrayal burned deeper than any brand. “What did she tell you? Do they return to England? I believe her father’s family—”
“I care nothing for Miss Swann, nor her family,” Beckett snapped. “My interest lies only in Sparrow – and the other filthy pirates, of course.” He drew a breath, suddenly afraid of revealing too much. “They are to meet at a place called Shipwreck Cove, for what exact purpose I have yet to discover. However, according to Sparrow, Jones may know more about this plot than he has yet revealed.”
“Really? How very unexpected.”
Beckett paid no attention, returning to his desk and lifting the lid on the small wooden casket. Inside, the heart thumped softly. He wondered if Jones could feel his gaze upon it, could feel the looming danger. He touched it, digging his nail into the unnatural flesh. “I think, Admiral, it is time we paid another visit to Captain Jones.”
Six had gathered. Straight of back and sharp of eye, they congregated around the huge oak table in the Chamber of the Brethren Court, silent, alert, suspicious. Teague watched them from amid his fug of blue pipe smoke, torchlight throwing their faces into sharp relief; naysayers and unbelievers, all of them, yet none had dared deny the power of the Song or ignore its summons. Four men and two women, whom history had divided by old rivalries and violent feuds, were now united by that same history. And it seemed likely that their future would also follow but one path, despite all Teague’s machinations. For the boy had returned.
The whisper had come with each tide; every barque, every sloop, every brigantine that fought its way through the Throat brought the same news to the Cove. Jack Sparrow lives. The whisper grew, until it seemed that the very ocean herself breathed for him. His boy lived. And yet Teague could not allow himself joy when he knew what sorrow was still to come. For the time being, he could only wait.
The guitar lay abandoned in the corner of the hall, though his fingers longed to grasp its slender neck and pluck clever notes from the pig's gut. But in this room, at this time, music would be dangerous, like a sparked flint in a powder store, for the air was thick and heavy with the unspent energy of the six coins present.
“It appears that the Pirate Lords’ demise will not be at the hands of your sea goddess, Captain Teague.” A silken voice spun out through the silence. “Boredom will spell our end long before then, I fear. How long are we to wait for his arrival, may I ask?”
Teague’s gaze wandered along the table until it met the bright, cat-like eyes of the speaker. Kasumi’s lips curled, dusk-red, in a smile that hovered between playful and mocking. “Jack’ll be along soon enough, girl,” Teague rumbled, eliciting a flash of irritation across the kunoichi’s face at his informal method of address.
“There is fury upon the seas in these times, Keeper.” Turgat Hazir’s tone held an edge that echoed the ever present challenge in his eyes. “Not least for one who has humiliated the forces of the Crown time and again. What assurances do you have that Sparrow or the Pearl will even survive the voyage from Jamaica?”
“Ah, but fortune never fails to smile on Jack Sparrow,” murmured Kasumi. “No matter how many times Death closes its fist around him, he trickles through its fingers like water. It seems, perhaps, he shall elude its grasp for all time.” Teague said nothing. Kasumi slid her chair back and rose to walk gracefully around the table, her unadorned black robes a whisper of silk. She fixed Teague with a knowing look. “I have no doubt that Jack Sparrow can escape with ease whatever challenge may be posed by Imperial forces, but I suspect that there may be other, less conspicuous, factors that will prevent him from joining us. A conflict of interests perhaps?”
“Sit down, sweetheart,” Teague growled and sucked on his pipe. He refrained from telling her how he hoped, desperately, that she was right - that Jack’s abhorrence for his old man, and his contempt for all that was written, would keep him far from Shipwreck Cove and the fate that awaited him here. But he knew his son too well, no matter what the woman who stood before him may think on the matter. “Jackie’ll come.”
As if in response to his assertions, the sound of steady footsteps was heard in the corridor leading up to the Chamber, followed by a ponderous pounding on the door.
“Come,” called Teague, knowing what news the messenger brought. The vast doors were pushed open and a sturdy man of middle years stood upon the threshold. The Keeper of the Court glanced around at the assembled Pirate Lords and spoke in measured tones. “The Black Pearl has passed through the Throat and makes berth as we speak, the Court will admit the seventh and eighth of the nine.”
Teague nodded an acknowledgement and the Keeper pulled closed the doors with ponderous ceremony. Around the table, there was a conspicuous lack of movement and Teague knew the thoughts of the six as clearly as if they’d spoken them aloud. It was a power play, a refusal to let their curiosity show. Let Sparrow come to us. He shook his head at their arrogance and vanity, for how soon it would all be stripped from them. Teague closed his eyes and, in his mind, let fingers dance over fret and string.
Then, after a while, the doors were flung open once more and, though his eyes remained closed, Teague could feel a shift in the room. Two more coins. The air crackled with the power. Yet there was something else that wrought a change in the atmosphere, something beyond the ancient force of the coins.
Since he’d been a child, Teague had observed it. How a room could change upon his entrance, how he commanded the space he occupied and, even if no eyes were turned to him, there would not be a body present unaware that Jack Sparrow had arrived. Jack wasn’t louder than other men, or more aggressive, or more demanding. He was just more>.
And so it was in this room, now. Teague let the final notes of La Jota die away in his head and then slowly opened his eyes to look upon his twice-dead son.
“Jackie.” The boy gave a nod in response, but said nothing. Teague narrowed his eyes, regarding him carefully. Thirteen years it had been since they had stood in the same room together, when Jack had shown him the brand, still blistered and angry upon his arm. That had been the first time Teague had witnessed bitterness in his son.
“Seems that, as an apple, falling far from the tree ain’t one of me strong points,” he’d said back then, as his mouth twisted upwards in an acid parody of a smile.
“‘Tis your first mark, boy,” Teague had replied. If the lad had come looking for sympathy he’d get none from his lips. “But it won’t be the last. There’ll be others to come.”
Jack had lifted his chin, smile still lingering. “I daresay you’re right. Not the last, I don’t expect.” Then he’d leaned forward, into the candlelight, and the flame had danced in his eyes like an inferno in the tombs of Dis. “But not the first either, eh?” Years later and Teague still could not forget the accusation in his tone.
And there, now standing behind his son, was the maker of one such mark and the bearer of the second coin. “Captain Barbossa. Welcome to the Brethren Court.”
“Captain Teague.” Barbossa greeted him with a slight bow and slid his yellow gaze around the table, giving careful consideration to each of the assembled Lords. “My fellow Brethren, ’tis an auspicious day that sees such a gathering, is it not?”
“And not one we’re likely to see again in our lifetime, Captain Barbossa,” said Kasumi, retaking her seat. “You and Captain Sparrow do us a great honour by joining us. At last.”
In response to her words, Jack finally spoke. “Me humblest apologies for our delayed arrival, love, but I’m afraid that the magnitude of this little soiree is sadly lost on old Jack.” His eyes met Teague’s and there was an insolent spark there, like stone struck upon stone. “Mutterings about the end times do little to impress me, y’see.”
“And yet here you stand, boy,” Teague rumbled in response, his tone as dark as the shadows that danced at the edges of the chamber.
“Captain Sparrow is not the only one who questions the necessity of this court,” said a soft, Irish voice. Gráinne Ní Mháille lounged in her chair, shrewd and watchful despite her casual posture. “I have sailed far, Teague, and in dangerous waters, to find nothing but ancient words scratched on a cave wall. I am in no mood for superstitions and tales of faeries; our homeland has more than enough of those to satisfy, as I’m sure you remember.”
“I remember well, Granuaile. But you would do well to remember what truth can lie in such tales.”
“There is danger enough in the real world, Keeper, and for pirates that danger grows each day. Ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scolb.”
“But the wind’ll blow all the same, love, and blow where she wills. Ain’t that right, Jackie?” He turned back to the boy. “You might mock me, son, but your presence here is proof enough that even you can’t ignore the Song, nor still the pulse of that coin in your pocket.”
At Teague’s words, Jack’s lip curled upwards in a lopsided smirk. “Ah, now that’s where your plan might have gone a little awry.”
Teague frowned. “What’s your meaning, Jack?”
“Well, it’s the coin, y’see.” His hands danced in the air. “It seems to have sort of slipped though me fingers, as it were.”
“You lost it?”
“Not lost exactly, no. Meaning that I know exactly where it is, but just don’t happen to be in possession of said trinket at this present time.”
And that’s when Teague saw her - a skinny scrap of a lass lurking just outside the open doors, hanging back, trying to fold herself into the shadows. Jack followed his line of sight. “Come in, love,” he said, and there was something to his tone, something that blew on the embers of a long dead memory within Teague’s soul. Dark eyes, full lips, a curtain of blue-black hair.
“You bring a stranger to the Brethren Court? You know the Code, boy,” he said, dangerously. “None shall enter the Chamber of the Brethren Court save the Pirate Lords and the Keepers. Get her out of here.”
“Ah, but this is…”
“I care not who she is!” His cry rang out through the arches of the upturned galleon. Let the boy mock him all he wished, but to flout the Code was a sin Teague would not tolerate. “Unless she bears a coin, she leaves!”
Jack’s grin grew broader. “Show him,” he said to the girl and, in response, she stuck her hand into the pocket of her coat. When she pulled it out there was something clutched tightly in her fist. She raised her hand and let the object dangle in the air. As it caught the glint of torchlight, gasps were heard around the room.
“Captain Morgan Teague, allow me the pleasure of introducing Miss Elizabeth Swann, daughter of the late Governor Weatherby Swann of Port Royal, merry murderess of one Captain Jack Sparrow and, latterly, Pirate Lord and member of the Brethren Court.”
The girl looked uncertainly from Jack to the coin to Teague. “I didn’t… I didn’t ask for it. I don’t want it,” she said hesitantly, but Teague could not take his eyes from the piece of shine that dangled between her fingers. That something so small should mean so much. Just a change in owner, the passage from one hand to another, but could it be…? He daren’t let himself hope.
“But ‘tis yours nonetheless,” he said, almost to himself.
“Well then,” said Jack, impudently cheery. “Isn’t this special? New friends and old… acquaintances all here together.” He flicked a wink at Kasumi who gave an indolent smile in return. “Might I suggest we get proceedings underway? Call this court to order and all that?”
The grating sound of Teague’s chair being pushed back echoed through the hall and he stood. “You’ll be suggesting nothing in this room, boy.”
Jack sketched a bow with steepled hands. “Me apologies, Keeper. Wouldn’t want to be stealing yer thunder. Have at it, mate.”
“There’ll be no call to order while an outsider remains present.”
Jack frowned. “Weren’t you listening, old man? I just told you she’s no outsider. Didn’t she just show you the…?” His words tailed off and a look of comprehension settled on his face, accompanied by a faint sardonic smile. “Ah, so that’s how it is then.”
“That’s how it is,” replied Teague. He walked around the table until he stood before his son. “You have no place here.” Jack backed away toward the open doors, an echo in reverse of Teague’s steady advancing gait, until he came to a standstill just beyond the threshold.
“You would hold this court without me? Am I not even to be privy to the particulars of me fate?”
“I told you once already, boy.” Teague reached out both arms and grasped the huge wrought iron handles. “You have no place here.” Jack had no time to object before the heavy doors were slammed shut in his face. Teague turned to face the eight assembled Pirate Lords. “Now,” he said, “this court of the Brethren of the Coast is called to order.”
My name is William Turner. Bill, for short. But most people just called me Bootstrap, or Bootstrap Bill.
I know my name. My name is William Turner…
He watches from the shadows, from the oozing depths of the Dutchman, as the Navy men come aboard. He’s drawn – they all are – by their starched white shirts, by the vivid colour of their coats, dripping with gold brocade, and by their warm, living skin.
My son is as they are, alive in the world. He’s coming soon, coming to save me. To save us all…
The Dutchman is a ship of lost souls, bound together by fear and duty, sinew and muscle serving where rope and canvas strain in ships of the living. The crew are part of the ship, and they all watch as the sailors step aboard, fear ripe for the taking and sweet as wine upon the tongue.
“You dare bring that here?” The captain’s eyes flare, one finger stabbing toward the men who stand before him.
Bootstrap can feel it too, the heavy thump of the heart; he thinks the short man wears it beneath his coat. And the Dutchman shivers with its captain’s rage, the whole sea quakes and roils.
“It seems you have not been entirely honest with us,” the small man says. Bootstrap should know his name, he recognises the face, but names of the living slip so easily through his fingers.
My name is William Turner. Bill, for short…
“Tell me what I wish to know,” the Navy man says, “or I shall commandeer this vessel and ram this piece of flesh back into your empty chest.”
Jones stalks away, pushing men from his path, and stops on the other side of the deck. “What is it you wish to know?” His humiliation is bitter, but Bootstrap knows the small man will pay for it later. In the Locker.
“Tell me the location of Shipwreck Cove.”
There’s a pause, it rattles about the ship like the casting of old bones. Shipwreck Cove? What business is that of Navy men?
A snort from Jones builds into a gale of laughter. “Where is Shipwreck Cove? Why, ’tis upon Shipwreck Island, of course.”
The officer lifts his eyes as if to implore the heavens; it seems strange, to Bootstrap, that he does not realise that God abandons all those who choose to board this cursed ship. “And where is Shipwreck Island?”
Jones moves closer, tentacles whispering of murder and blood. “’Tis where you most need it to be,” he said. “’Tis a port in a storm, land in the doldrums, a beacon upon a reef – but only to the Brethren, to those it calls into its arms.”
“And would that include you, Captain Jones?”
“What if it did?”
The small man seems unafraid, drawing closer. “Jack Sparrow sails for Shipwreck Cove. I intend to follow him and to put an end to this pirate rebellion before it begins.”
The captain blows a breath in the man’s face; Bootstrap knows it stinks of death, but the little man does not react. “Escaped your clutches, did he?” His head cocks to one side. “Or did your heart soften at the end?”
“You will lead us to Shipwreck Cove, or you will die, Captain Jones. Don’t doubt that.”
Jones doesn’t move and his voice grows very quiet; Bootstrap scuttles back into the shadows. A storm is brewing. “I’ll not go, and you’ll thank me for it; man’s dominion over the sea is best served by our absence from Shipwreck Cove.”
“I fail to see—”
“Aye!” Jones exclaims. “There is much you fail to see. But know this – the Brethren are bound to repay a debt, the settling of which will see us all swept into the maelstrom. But if they fail, if the terms are not met, then the sea remains ours until the end of time.”
“And this will be achieved by our allowing them to plot against us? I hardly think so.” The officer leans forward, one hand pressed against his chest; Bootstrap can feel the thunder of the heart through his boots, through the whole ship. “I will have Jack Sparrow, and you, Captain Jones, will take me to him. Or you will die, here and now, and the fate of the Brethren will no longer be your concern. Do I make myself clear?”
Jones’ rage is like the hurricane, vast and terrible. It sweeps through the ship, cascades out into the ocean and sends the sharks and other dark beasts skittering away from their feeding grounds. Bootstrap can feel a part of himself wash away with them. Little by little, he’s leaching into the sea. Soon, he will be gone; there will be nothing left to save.
My name is William Turner. Bill, for short. But most people just called me Bootstrap, or Bootstrap Bill.
I know my name. My name is William Turner…
The rumour spread like fire, hurtling through the dense and twisting passages of the Cove, gaining heat at every turn.
They’ve named a King.
They’ve named a woman King!
Kasumi, Jack assumed, a dark and dangerous proposition. She was strong, of course, manipulative, and always served the interest of the highest bidder. It surprised him, though, that Turgat Hazir would accept her – given their history. Still…
But then the rumour changed.
No, not a woman. A girl. An outsider…
The Unwilling King, they called her. Unwilling? Of that he had no bloody doubt; he saw Teague’s subtle hand in this. No surprise the old bastard had thrown him out of the Court! He was up to something, as he always was, and Elizabeth wouldn’t stand a chance against his machinations.
Jack watched from the shadows as the Brethren Court spilled out, his eye drawn inexorably to Elizabeth. She looked like nothing so much as a man tossed overboard in a storm, bewildered and alone. Despite everything, he had to firmly quash the instinct to throw her a line and haul her to safety.
You know she’d use the rope to hang you, mate. That dark shadow in the corner of his mind was restless. She’s taken your place – how much more must she steal from you before you slide the knife between her ribs?
“And what would be the point of that?”
Something shifted at the edge of his vision, not quite solid. Vengeance.
Oddly, it was Cutler Beckett that came to mind, watching with cold eyes as the cat bit into Jack’s flesh. “Not sure vengeance is all it’s cracked up to be. Not sure it does anything but drive the blade deeper in the end.”
Elizabeth looked pale and lost. Grief had left its mark, he supposed, and not just grief. Guilt had driven her to the ends of the world and he found himself wondering – for the first time – if her torment in those days had not, perhaps, rivalled his own.
I’m not sorry, she’d whispered at the end. He’d known, even then, that it was a lie.
Something turned slowly in his chest, at once an ache and a joy. Was it pity?
“Pity?” He saw it now, a malevolent shadow on the other side of the alleyway. “Is that what you call it?”
It was silent a moment, shuffling closer. “She knows what you are,” it hissed. “Black hearted, thieving bloody pirate what buggers anyone and anything to get his own way.” It paused, wheezing a laugh. “Did you really think she believed you a good man, Jack? Did you think she loved you?”
“Liar.” Closer now, its breath was a cold blast of the Locker. “Cunning Jack Sparrow, seduced by a maiden’s tricks? No greater fool ever sailed the high seas.”
“Just bugger off, will you?”
“Leave her to her fate, mate. She’s earned it, eh? You’ve got the Pearl. Why are you still here, skulking in the shadows? You know this is the last place on Earth you should be.”
Elizabeth moved suddenly and he realised she’d darted after Teague, Barbossa on her heels. Jack followed slowly and at a distance; always at a distance.
She’ll never love you, the shadow called after him.
He followed her anyway.
Author's note: As many of you will probably be aware, Gráinne Ní Mháille is based on a real historical figure who lived from 1530-1603. She's such a fabulous character that we wanted to induct her into the Brethren of the Coast and so have brought her about 200 years into the future. We hope she'll forgive our presumption ;)