The Black Pearl was moored beneath the shadow of Shipwreck Cove, whose tottering bulk loomed over them with – in the eyes of Josamee Gibbs – malevolent intent. He’d heard stories of the Cove, of course, but not since he’d first turned pirate, nigh on a decade past, had he occasion to visit the infamous stronghold of the Brethren.
And a dark and daunting place it was, full of strange ships and stranger men. Danger lurked here, he could smell it above the stench of the city, sharp as a new blade and twice as lethal.
Gibbs was glad to have been commissioned by Jack to stay aboard the Pearl; he was happier still when he saw his captain return, walking lightly up the gangplank just ahead of the rising sun.
“Well met, Mister Gibbs,” Jack murmured, glancing about as if to assure himself the Pearl was still his. “Any trouble?”
“None close enough to cause concern, Captain. And for yourself?”
Jack’s smile was fleeting. “Plenty mate, and all of it ahead of us.” He leaned closer, voice low. “Where’s Barbossa?”
“Gone into the city.”
“And Turner?” His gaze, it seemed to Gibbs, was keener than usual.
“I thought he was with you.”
“No.” Jack straightened and waved an unconcerned hand toward the city. “No doubt he’ll turn up. Like the proverbial penny, that boy.”
“Aye, no doubt, sir. And talking of which… I heard tell that Miss Swann’s been somewhat elevated in rank since she went ashore.”
Jack’s gaze slid back toward the city and in the first light of the new day he seemed pale, washed clean. “These are interesting times, Mister Gibbs. As they say in Macau.” After a moment, he smiled humourlessly and added, “Ah, here he is.”
Looking past Jack, Gibbs saw the Turner boy ambling along the quay, glancing to left and right as if he’d lost something. When he reached the foot of the gangplank he stopped, shading his eyes against the cresting sun and called, “Is Elizabeth aboard?”
Gibbs was about to answer, when Jack strolled to the rail and leaned down to talk to the lad. “She’ll be in the dubious care of Captain Teague by now, and no doubt on the way to another interminably dull meeting of the Brethren Court. Rather her than me, eh?”
Turner seemed to hesitate, glancing over his shoulder as if minded to run after the lass. After all, the boy had made something of a career of chasing Miss Swann. “How do you know?”
“One day,” Jack sighed, making a show of it, “you’ll believe me when I tell you the truth.”
“Maybe,” Will agreed with a brittle smile. “But how will I know when that day arrives, Jack?”
The captain made no answer, just gestured toward the deck. “Come aboard, lad. She’ll not pine away without you. We’re re-supplied and no doubt you’ve an appetite this morning, eh?”
“As it happens…” He frowned, as if unsure of Jack’s meaning, and with another glance over his shoulder bounded up the gangplank. “I am quite hungry.”
Jack watched him a moment, and it seemed to Gibbs that he was seeking something in the lad’s face. Whether he found it or not was difficult to tell, for Jack smiled again, a brief flutter of wry amusement. “Come then, I’ve rum and fresh mango and—”
From the very summit of the City, a bell began to toll – clang, clang, clang in mournful warning. Gibbs looked immediately to his captain.
“Unfriendly sail,” Jack interpreted. “Outside the Cove.” His gaze shifted back to Will. “No prizes for guessing who.”
The boy’s face grew solemn. “Jones.”
“With Lord Beckett and the Caribbean fleet, no doubt.”
Gibbs glanced up at the rocks surrounding them, the dark slash of the Devil’s Throat commanding his attention. “They’ll never get through, none can pass who ain’t invited.”
“True,” Jack agreed, crossing the deck to the starboard rail and staring out toward the Throat. “But Jones is invited, isn’t he?”
Gibbs frowned. “Jones?”
“The Ninth Pirate Lord,” Jack muttered, “so legend has it. Holder of the ninth coin, and summoned by the Song.”
Will came to stand at his side. “Do you think he will enter?”
He sounded keen and Jack glanced toward him with a speculative look in his eye. “Hard to tell. He’ll not surrender his coin, that’s for sure. At least…” His teeth gleamed in a sharp smile. “Not without some persuasion, eh?”
From his belt, the boy drew the blade he’d carried since returning from the Dutchman. He jabbed it into the rail, sunlight sinking without trace into the black of its handle. “I have sworn to kill him.”
“That you have, lad. But ’tis not Jones you need for that, is it? And who knows where Beckett keeps the heart? He’d be a fool to bring it here.”
A voice came from the quay, thick with a west-country burr. “William Turner?”
Gibbs glanced over the rail and saw a young lad, barefoot upon the dock. “What d’you want with him, lad?”
“Summoned to the court, he is, sir. By order of the King.”
“The King?” Jack, sharp-eyed, was at his side. “What does she want with him?”
The boy shrugged. “Not like to tell me, is she, sir?”
“Very true.” The captain’s gaze turned to Will. “You’d best be off then.”
“Aye.” He was hesitant though, his attention darting toward the Throat.
Jack touched his shoulder. “You’ll know, mate, if the Dutchman passes. We’ll all bloody know.” Then he glanced again at the messenger. “Don’t suppose I was summoned, was I?”
“No, sir, not ’less you’re William Turner. Which I don’t suppose you are.”
Gibbs cast Jack a look, to which the captain responded only with a resigned roll of his eyes. Then, more seriously, he said, “Keep a sharp eye, William. They’ve plans for you, lad.”
But Jack just smiled and raised his hands as if washing them of the matter. “You’ll find out soon enough. But remember, Lizzie’s always been more pirate than either of us. Savvy?”
Whether the boy understood or not, he didn’t reply, simply strode down the gangway to the dock and followed the messenger into the labyrinth of the Cove.
After a pause, Jack spoke. “I need a bloody drink.”
It was a sentiment with which Gibbs could most heartily agree.
Shipwreck Cove seemed different in the dawn light, at once less threatening and more strange. The shadows receded, but in their place Will could see the bizarre construction of the city. Like nothing forged by human hands, the wrecks looked as if they had been thrown together in some maelstrom, and he found himself wondering about Jack’s strange story of the goddess.
Here, he thought, he could believe such things. Here he could feel the touch of something older and deeper than the world he knew; it shimmered beyond his ability to see, but he could feel it like heat upon his skin.
Yes, it was power he felt as he was drawn deep into the heart of the pirate city.
The sunlight did not penetrate here, the ships were old and dripping, rotting. And somewhere beneath his feet Will thought he could sense the presence of rock, the bones of the Earth. It made him feel safer, more secured than he had in too long.
And he found it gave him the strength to face Elizabeth.
The last he remembered was the pale curve of her shoulder, turned away from him as she slept. But the feel of her skin still lingered on his rough hands, and he remembered her pride in him, in what he was, and her sadness at all they had lost. He felt it too, a cold ache in his chest, as if some part of him were missing. It was a familiar feeling, for that empty pit had been dug by his father’s abandonment and he’d spent his life trying to fill it.
For a long time, he’d imagined Elizabeth’s love to be all that he needed – he’d thought that their union could make him whole. But now he knew that for a calf-love dream and began to suspect that no woman – no matter how beautiful or unreachable – had the power to heal him.
His hand came to rest upon the dagger in his belt, his father’s dagger – his father’s only gift to him, save the Aztec gold that had almost cost him his life – and he remembered the look in the old man’s eyes when he’d given him the blade. Not quite love but pride, enough to provoke Will’s rash promise: I will not rest until this blade pierces the heart of Davy Jones… On that day, he wondered, when his father was free, would his own heart be made whole at last?
“We’re here.” The lad who’d served as guide through the city stopped before a tall set of double doors. An older man stepped from the shadows to meet them.
“Who requests entrance to The Brethren Court?” he intoned.
“The Blacksmith,” replied the boy, “as invited by the King and the Court. Will the Keeper of the Court allow entrance?” Will fought the urge to roll his eyes at the dusty formality of the exchange, as the man gave a nod and the messenger bowed in response, before making his exit.
The Keeper of the Court then turned to the doors and rapped three times upon their tarred oak. Though he strained to hear, Will could detect no movement on the other side. Perhaps they had missed the knock.
“Should we-?” he began, turning to the man beside him.
“Ssh!” chided the Keeper, with a frown.
Will turned back to the doors, affronted. A blacksmith’s apprentice was used to awaiting summons, but to be summoned by pirates, by those he’d spent his life loathing and despising…? He tried not to bristle, reminding himself that Elizabeth also waited within. Their paths might be diverging, but he would not abandon her to these strange and dangerous people.
It wasn’t long before he heard the rasp of a bolt being drawn and the black doors shivered and cracked open. The face that greeted him was weathered as old leather, but eyes like coal glittered amid the creases. Though he’d never seen the man in all his life, Will felt his heart leap with a powerful surge of recognition.
“Will Turner.” The man’s accent was that of London and a myriad ports beyond. “The Brethren Court awaits the arrival of the Blacksmith.”
Will cast a sideways glance at the boy. “The blacksmith?”
The lad shrugged, his gaze darting to the intimidating figure peering out from the flame-flickering darkness within the court.
“Enter, William,” the pirate said, impatience quick upon his lips. “We’d have sight of you.”
With a backward glance at the boy, who made no attempt to follow, Will stepped into the court of the Brethren. A large oval table sat in the centre of the small room, a fire danced at the far end and the walls were hung with lanterns. Windows in hues of ochre and topaz ran the length of one wall, but they let in little morning light and the room was hazy with pipe smoke. He drew closer to the table and—
…the acrid scent of the forge burns his nose, the heat is fierce upon his face, and the music fills him until he wants to weep with the joy of it…
He staggered and found his elbow caught by the old man who’d granted him entrance. “You feel it, lad,” he said in a low voice. “Steady a moment, ‘twill pass.”
Will stared at him, trying to shake the sensation from his mind. But it was as if the air burned, not with heat but with power – as if a storm brewed all about them, lightning poised to strike. “Who are you?” he rasped, staring at this strange man’s face.
“Teague,” came the reply. “Keeper of the Code. Among other things.” He released his hold on Will’s arm. “Now, take your place.”
Cautious now, he eyed the men and women who sat around the table, all watching him and muttering softly to each other. Barbossa was among them, his sharp yellow eyes bright, as if resting on the crest of a smile. To his left sat an oriental woman of cold but piercing beauty; he knew instantly that she was dangerous. Opposite her was a tall, swarthy man – a Moor perhaps – and next to him, another woman with red mixed into the grey of her hair. Her eyes twinkled, but he could see they were hard as diamonds.
If there were others about the table, Will did not notice, for his eyes were caught then by the Pirate King and his heart stammered. At the head of the table she sat, dressed in a coat of bottle-green velvet, her chin lifted and her air regal.
The last time he had seen her, she had been naked in his arms.
“Will,” she said, her eyes bright and keen. “Welcome.”
This creature, he thought, was a stranger to him; he had to resist the urge to sweep her a bow. “Miss Swann.”
A flicker of regret touched her eyes, but did not dim her purpose. “Please, sit down, Will. There is a story you must hear.”
With his booted foot, Barbossa kicked out a chair and Will carefully took it. “What is this?” he asked Elizabeth. “What business do I have here?”
“More then you know, Will.” She smiled, and he saw pride in her eyes.. “Please, listen. It will sound strange, but I think you will feel – as I do – that it is true.”
He cast his eyes about the room, took in the strange people staring at him, and realised he did not feel intimidated. In this place, he felt their equal; in this place, he felt powerful. “What is it you want?”
The man named Teague was the only one standing and he fixed Will with a penetrating gaze. “You, Master Turner.”
“Ten score year ago there were forged nine coins, nine coins what bound the power of the sea goddess – Calypso.”
Will slid a glance to Elizabeth, her answering look was a plea for patience.
“The same goddess, I suppose,” Will said, “who is consort to Davy Jones?”
A nasty smile split Teague’s face. “She was once, and that was the root of the trouble. No man should ever trust a woman with his heart, eh?”
There was a murmur about the table and Will caught a slow smile curving ruby lips; the oriental woman inclined her head in his direction, “Teague speaks the truth.”
Will deliberately did not look at Elizabeth. “And how does this concern me?”
“At dusk tomorrow,” Teague said, “the Midnight Sun will fade from the sky and then must the debt be paid. Lest we want Jones and the likes of Cutler Beckett to rule the seas forever, we must surrender one of our own into the hands of the goddess. And for two hundred years must he suffer Calypso’s wrath in penance for the hubris of the First Brethren Court.”
The table beneath Will’s fingers was worn smooth with age, the grain rum-soaked and softened by long use. He fixed his eyes upon it as he said, “I will not be your sacrifice.”
There was a long silence.
And then Teague spoke once more, his voice edged with humour. “’Tis not your blood we need, Master Blacksmith. ‘Tis your skill with hammer and anvil.”
He looked up. “What?”
“To release the goddess,” Teague said softly, “the coins what bound her must be returned to the fire. There, they must be re-forged into the blade that will pierce her human heart and unbind that what should never have been bound.”
Will glanced at Elizabeth and back to Teague. “Why me? Have you no blacksmiths in Shipwreck Cove?”
“None capable of this forging, lad.” He drew closer and Will felt the hairs stir on the back of his neck. “’Twill be like no forging you have ever known, Will Turner. ‘Twill be like no forging this world has seen in ten-score years! Perhaps, in that, you will find your purpose, eh?”
“No.” He was on his feet now, one hand clamped around the back of the chair. “No, I already have a purpose.” From his belt he pulled his father’s knife. “This blade is the only one that concerns me, and until it has pierced the heart of Davy Jones I will not be diverted from my quest.”
Teague looked surprise, and a ripple of interest scurried through the rest of the gathered pirates. “Do you know what it means, lad, to stab the heart of Davy Jones?”
“Yes.” Will lifted his chin, defiant. “I will free my father, even if it becomes my fate to take Jones’ place aboard the Dutchman.”
“What?” Elizabeth’s protest was shrill. “Will? What do you mean?”
He looked at her then, saw the horror in her eyes. “I have no choice,” he said softly. “I swore to free my father.”
Behind him he heard a soft laugh, old as the hills. “Choice?” Teague said. “Lad, you always have a choice.”
“That’s not true. Is it, Elizabeth?”
She remained silent.
“There’s a touch of destiny about you, boy,” Teague said, strolling closer. “But destiny ain’t nothing but the path beneath your feet, and only you can choose whether or not to walk it.”
Will made no reply, just held the old man’s gaze.
Into the silence, Elizabeth spoke. “Even if Will agrees to forge this blade, need I remind you that we are missing two important things? First, we have only eight of the nine coins. And second, we are lacking this prophesised sacrificial lamb.”
The Moor shifted where he sat, his gaze sliding from Elizabeth to Teague. “Jones will not relinquish the coin. Do you mean to fight him for it?” He cast a speculative look at Will. “If this boy takes Jones’s life, then he would be the Ninth Lord of the Sea and the coin would be his.”
“No,” Teague said softly. “This lad ain’t no Sea Lord. The boy’s the Blacksmith, and no doubt. I can feel it.”
“I will free my father,” Will interjected. “I will not be—”
His protest was drowned, however, by a great hammering at the doors of the Court and muffled shouts of fear.
Elizabeth and the rest of the Pirate Lords were on their feet, outrage in their faces.
“Who dares—?” Barbossa yelled.
He was answered the next moment as the double doors were flung open and between them, framed by the morning light, stood the monstrous figure of Davy Jones.