“Not good,” Jack said, watching from the quarterdeck as the Flying Dutchman came to rest not a ship’s length from the Pearl. So close, she was, that he could see the water streaming down the monstrosity’s ever decaying hull, its death-stench a bitter reminder of his own horrors. Those past, and those yet to come…
“Yet to come?” The voice was soft, seductive as death. “What kind of talk is that, mate?”
Jack ignored it, turning his head from the shadows. What business, he wondered, did Jones have here? Surely not delivering the ninth coin to the Court; of them all, Jones was the last to wish Calypso freed. A taunt then, or a feint…?
“What are you waiting for, Jack?” That voice again, a hiss of darkness in his ear. If he turned, he knew he would be able to see its wretched face. “Everyone’s ashore but your crew. Now’s the time to take it all back, mate.”
With a resigned sigh, Jack said, “Take what back?”
“The Pearl. Your life.” A cold, putrefied hand reached around to grasp at his chest. “Your pathetic, beaten heart.”
He looked down and the hand was gone. “Take it all back, you say?”
“You’ve no need of ’em. None of ’em. What do you care about the fate of the pirates?”
He considered it, staring out beyond the Dutchman to the toppling city of his youth. “Nothing, as it happens.”
“Well then…” The shadow shifted, coalesced at his side. “Why linger?”
“You know why.”
It drew closer, breath stagnant as the Locker. “She’s given herself to the boy, sweating and writhing beneath him in some filthy corner of the Cove. Couldn’t you smell it on her? On him?”
A pulse of anger had him curling his fingers about the ship’s rail. “Why don’t you just bugger off?”
“You know why, mate.” It paused; he could feel its breath in his ear. “She despises you, Jack. She hates you.”
“No.” It surprised him that he believed it, but he’d woken with her curled against him and knew the shadow-words to be a lie. “No, not hate.”
There was a silence, a stretching moment. “She’ll never love you.”
His gaze shifted back to the Dutchman. If Jones had gone ashore, then it meant one thing only – two hundred years to the day had passed, and payment was due. He knew he could run, turn his back on the Brethren and all they represented, but he couldn’t turn his back on her.
“You’re a fool!” the shadow hissed.
“Did you doubt it?”
The cold hand touched his arm, fingers biting hard. “Don’t do it.”
“Why not?” He turned, facing it – facing it at last. From the depths of the darkness he saw his own face, bone-white and hollow, eyes pits of rage. “Why not do it?”
The creature backed up a step, craven. “Because you ain’t a good man, Jack Sparrow. You’re a coward and a thief, a measly murderous wretch what looks out for himself and the devil take the hindmost.”
“Shut up,” he growled.
“You’re a liar and a cheat, and she knows it, Jack; everyone does.”
“I said, shut up!”
“Why pretend?” it hissed. “You’re fooling none but yourself, and that cunt-dripping whore would—”
Its ragged clothes were in his hands and he had it slammed against the rail before it could draw breath. “I hate you,” he spat at the creature. “I despise you, you loathsome, maggot-brained carrion. But you’re right about one thing. It is time to take me bloody life back – from you.”
The creature snarled, its pit-black eyes dead as the Locker. “You can’t get rid of me, Jack. I’ll always be here, bitter and hating… Look at me, Jack. I am you.”
He did look, took in the sallow skin and dead eyes, the boiled down loathing of the creature. And then he remembered the weight of Elizabeth’s head against his shoulder, the anguish of the kiss that had betrayed him, and the salt tears of her remorse; his heart bloomed warm and he smiled. “Bollocks, mate.” His fist slammed into the creature’s face, but it was already mist before his eyes and his hand smashed hard into the ship’s rail. He cursed, loud enough to wake the dead.
“What?” Clutching his hand, he turned and found Gibbs staring in rum-soaked bewilderment.
“Everything all right, Captain?”
“Perfectly. Why do you ask?”
Gibbs’ puzzled gaze was fixed on Jack’s hand. “No reason, sir.”
Shaking out his fingers – none broken, it seemed – he said, “Mister Gibbs, I have urgent need of a longboat.”
“A longboat, sir?”
His gaze slid toward the Dutchman and his heart beat with a new kind of freedom – the freedom from resentment, from fear and from rage. He was his own master, at last. “Seems I have an errand to run, on behalf of our illustrious monarch.”
Gibbs sucked in a sharp breath. “Are ye mad, Jack?”
It was a good question, and he considered it a while. “Only in so far as we’re all mad,” he decided, “but no further than that.” He smiled then, and patted Gibbs on the arm as he strolled toward the longboats. “Cheer up, mate. It’s only the end of the world.”
Elizabeth’s skin crawled at the sight of the monster that stalked into the room, one wooden leg thumping slowly upon the floor. Its eyes were bright as a shark’s and equally inhuman as it gazed about the court.
“Captain Jones,” said Teague, the only one in the room who seemed unmoved by the creature’s entrance. “Welcome to the Brethren Court.”
“I want none of your welcome,” the creature said, strangely soft spoken – strangely human. “And I come here only as I am driven. But know this, Keeper; I neither bear the coin nor do I intend to give it up. I will never consent to the payment of this debt. Let the witch rot in her own skin, for the seas belong to me.” His pinpoint eyes slipped toward Will. “Turner. Why is it that, wherever I find trouble, I find your face?”
“Mine is the last face you will ever see. Mark that, Captain.”
Jones chuckled, a fearsome and humourless noise. “You lack the wit and resources even to keep this strumpet by your side, boy. Don’t think I fear you. The heart is far from here and lost to you; I cannot die, and you cannot free your father.”
“The heart is also lost to you,” Elizabeth countered, fear and anger hammering in her heart. “It lies in the hands of Cutler Beckett. Which makes you his leashed hound, does it not, Captain?”
The mass of tentacles about its face flared. “Beckett will soon learn the folly of caging a shark,” Jones said, taking a limping step closer. His nose flared, as if breathing in her scent. “I know you,” he hissed, his face drawing closer. She did not back away. “All within the Locker is my dominion and I know your heart, Elizabeth Swann – lustful and perfidious as the heart of every woman…”
And for a moment, before her eyes, he was not a monster but a man, broad shouldered and fine. But his face was etched with sorrow - a love, deep as the ocean, wide as the seven seas. Oh, she could feel it… Upon his chest was a scar, his heart and his humanity torn from his breast, that great love turned cold by bitter resentment. Elizabeth’s voice was a whisper. “Will you never forgive her?”
“Never.” And suddenly he was the monster again, twisted from his purpose by pain and rage. He cocked his head, studying her. “Betrayal can never be forgiven. As you well know, Miss Swann.”
She made no answer, too conscious of Will’s presence; she could feel him like the pulsing heat of a resentful sun. Did he too feel betrayed? Like James, like Jack…? She felt the weight of their pain, felt the burden of her wayward heart, but found that she could not regret her choices - for she was Elizabeth Swann, Pirate King, and she had always yearned to fly free. She lifted her chin. “I belong to no man, Captain Jones, and any that try to cage me pay the price for their temerity.” She stepped closer, rejoicing when he backed up. “I am King here, and you will do as you are bid by your sovereign.” She held out her hand, palm up. “Surrender your coin.”
The room was thick with silence, frozen as if in aspic. No one breathed and even Teague, at her shoulder, did not move.
When he spoke, Jones’ voice was mocking. “You think to command me, girl? I had sailed these oceans a lifetime, ten score years ago. I am more than you can imagine, more than you know to fear, and I reject you. I reject this entire pitiable court!” He whirled away from her, addressing the room at large. “The debt remains unpaid and the seas belong to me. Soon all men will tremble beneath my fist, and all the mortals of this world, be they king or commoner, will make obeisance at my feet. For there is only one Lord of the Sea, and none shall pass without my say!”
From behind her, Teague whispered, “Now you know the face of man’s tyranny.”
Elizabeth raised her voice. “Leave then, Captain Jones, run back to your master and take him this a message.” Her gaze darted to Will, and from his nod she knew he was with her. She fixed her attention once more on Jones. “The debt will be paid, Calypso will be freed – and tomorrow, you will die. All who oppose us will die.”
Jones made an angry, fluttering sound and watched her through narrowed eyes. “Then we’ll meet next in the Locker, Miss Swann.” And with that he turned, clumping out of the room on his rotting wooden leg.
She glanced sideways at Teague, blood pumping hard and fast. “Too rash?”
“No.” He smiled, and for a moment he was too like his son. “Just rash enough.” He looked over at Will. “Then you’ll do it boy? Forge the blade and help us rid the world of Jones’ evil?”
Will’s hand was on the knife at his belt. “I’ll forge the blade, but Jones’ life is mine.”
Teague cocked his head. “Keen on an eternity at sea are you, boy?”
“It’s a matter of honour.” His jaw was set, but Elizabeth could see the dread in his eyes and her heart ached for him. “In that, I have no choice.”
With long, slow steps Teague crossed to where Will stood and looped an arm about his shoulder. “Come lad,” he said, gesturing toward the doors. “There’s something I’d have you see; we’ll talk of choice upon the way.”
Will cast a single, backward glance at Elizabeth, but did not hesitate in accompanying Teague from the room.
“There’s only one question remains,” a rummy voice whispered in her ear.
Recoiling in disgust, she found herself toe-to-toe with Barbossa. “And what question is that?”
He grinned his yellow-toothed grin and waved an expansive arm at the gathered Pirate Lords. “The question most pressing in all our minds, Majesty; which Pirate Lord is it that’s to be sacrificed to the heathen goddess…?”
In the end, the longboat had seemed too conspicuous and so Jack left his effects with Gibbs – tucking only a knife into his belt – and slipped into the cool waters of the Cove.
The Dutchman’s surface was rough as rock, barnacled and crevassed which made for an easy climb; Jack supposed there were few who sought to board her. He slipped unseen over the stern rail and ducked low. He could make out a few figures shuffling across the deck, slow and cumbersome as the dead – which they were, give or take a century.
He hoped he’d make a less somnolent corpse.
Banishing the thought quickly, he swiped at the water dripping from his hair and took a moment to plan his next move. The last time he’d been aboard this ship he’d been little more than a boy, beaten and branded, afire with rage and thirsty for revenge. He’d not paid much attention to the geography of the ship. But he did remember the pipes, a whole wall of them, in some vast chamber below in which Jones seemed to keep his most treasured possessions. There, he thought, he would find the coin.
Walking on cat’s feet he found the nearest hatch and slipped below; the stench was overwhelming, fish-rot and damp decay. He remembered that too, could almost feel the fire of the brand.
“You betrayed me.” Beckett speaks with contempt and half-lidded eyes. “You’ve made your bed, Sparrow; this is how I punish pirates.”
“Determined to leave your bloody mark, aren’t you?”
He leans closer for this, his last confession. “As you have on me.”
“Nothing personal, mate. ’Twas only a bit of fun.”
Beckett pulls the iron from the fire, studies its glowing tip. “As is this.”
Shivering, Jack pressed a hand over his arm and tried to shake off the memory. Yet, strangely, it wasn’t the agony in his arm that he remembered, but the pain in the other man’s eyes. T’was only a bit of fun, he’d said…
I’m not sorry.
He wondered which was the crueller farewell.
At the bottom of the steps he stopped, letting his eyes adjust to the gloom. A grey light here, the antithesis of the azure seas Jack loved – no brightness, no colour. No life. Peering down the deck he could see cannon, and other detritus, seeming to extend the whole length, which meant Jones’ quarters were deeper still.
“Part of the ship.”
The voice was next to his ear and he jumped, failing to mask a yelp. There, staring at him, was a… Well, face was probably too generous a description, but perhaps the thing had once been a man. “Part of the crew.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “And a valuable one at that, no doubt,” he said. “I’m looking for Captain Jones, as it happens. Don’t suppose you…?”
“The Captain’s gone ashore,” the face replied, peeling itself out of the death-encrusted hull. “A day ashore, ten years at sea.”
“Ah, so I’ve missed him then? He will be disappointed. But no matter, I’ll just…” He waved his hand toward the steps leading down. “Go below and wait?”
“Part of the ship,” the face replied, settling back into itself. “Part of the crew.”
“Very good,” Jack nodded, dropping down onto the steps. “Carry on.”
Below, it was quieter yet not so dark as Jack would have supposed; not so dark as the Pearl. There was a strange, defuse light – the very same light that quaking sailors saw upon the horizon when the Dutchman drew near on storm-lashed nights. Phosphorescence, some said, but they were men who had never travelled to the Locker and had not seen that pale mist between worlds. To Jack, the light was familiar as death.
A vast chamber opened out before him, grey as ash and glowing like silver in the moon. This place he remembered, and with it the fever and thirst that had pulled him, with skeletal fingers, toward the world beyond.
Do you fear death?
He’d not, then. But he’d burned for revenge and for life, and had thought a hundred years of immortality small price for thirteen at the helm of his Pearl. Thirteen years in which to seek vengeance; what a fool – what a child – he had been.
Jones’ pipe organ dominated one end of the cabin and Jack thought of his own father’s magic; did Jones call upon the same fey powers that guided his father's hand? There were few left who knew of such things and the world seemed all the smaller for it; Jack consoled himself with the notion that, with Calypso freed, the world he left behind would be less empty.
He kept to the walls of the room, and above him he could hear the shuffling tread of the Dutchman’s crew about their business. He wondered if they could sense him here, or if there was enough of the Locker still lingering about him that he seemed as dead as they. Never mind, though, for he would soon be gone – as soon as he found the coin.
He stilled and closed his eyes, letting himself drift in the silence. Letting himself feel… Yes, a soft thrum of power; he’d not carried the coin for twenty years without knowing its feel, hearing its call. His gaze fell on the keys of the organ and he crept closer. A silver case sat there, in the shape of a heart, and next to it… Burnished bronze, it was, the only hint of warmth in this colourless place. Jack reached out a hand, flexed his fingers as if about to pick a pocket – which he was – and took the coin for his own.
The Song hit him like a blow to the chest, sending him reeling a step and gasping for breath. So strong, the call! So loud in his head. For a moment he feared a return to the splintered madness of the Locker, his mind stuffed with too many voices, too many desires and rages. But then the Song receded, settled to a gentle hum - a familiar insistent tug upon the heart.
He eyed the coin a moment longer, then tucked it deep into the pocket of his britches. So far so good, now all he had to do was—
“Jack?” The voice was tomb-deep and watery, like an echo in a dripping cavern. “Jack Sparrow?”
Stiffening, he turned slowly. “Bootstrap.”
“Is it you, Jack?”
“No mate.” He wiggled his fingers. “Figment of your imagination.”
Bootstrap shuffled closer, cocking his head, and in that moment Jack had a memory of the man as he had once been – quiet, yet fearless as he’d leaned out into the wind and grinned with the bitter joy of freedom. “It is you, Jack.” He glanced over his shoulder and lowered his voice. “Be you dead?”
“No mate. Not at the moment.”
A smile, mad as a child’s, lit his face. “Then you’ve come to save me? You’re here with my son! Tell him the heart is here, Jack, tell him the heart is aboard the navy ship…”
“It’s here?” Beckett was a bigger fool than he’d imagined. “Upon the Endeavour?”
Bootstrap nodded and drew closer. “He means to free me,” he said, earnest and hopeful – just like Will. “My son means to stab the heart of the Captain.”
“Aye,” Jack said. “And what of him then?”
“Then…” Bootstrap blinked. “Then we’ll sail together, of course. Father and son.”
“’Tis quite a fate to wish upon your boy, that - your boy what shows no inclination at all for the sea.”
“What are you saying, Jack?”
Past Bootstrap’s shoulder he could see the door, see shifting shadows beyond. He knew he didn’t have long, and lingering was folly. Even so… “Your boy’s in love, Bill. Due to be married to a girl – beautiful, girl, mate. Fierce and warm as the sun, I swear, and with such a thirst for life…” He drew closer, fixed the man’s mad eyes with his own. “If young William stabs the heart, it’ll break hers – and his.”
“But he means to free me,” Bootstrap said, uncertain now.
“And would you desire your only son to make that sacrifice?”
Bootstrap’s head drooped, heavy with more than the burden of his fate. “No father would,” he said. “I understand now. Yes… It’s selfish of me to ask; he should stay away.” He grabbed Jack’s wrist, his hand ice cold and slippery, eyes lucid with sudden desperation. “Make him stay away, Jack.”
He shook his head. “I’ve me own path to walk, mate.”
“But he swore—”
Jack covered the man’s hand with his own, lifting it from his arm. “He’s your son, Bill. I know how you regretted what you done, leavin’ him and his mother. Maybe now’s the time to make it right. Savvy?”
Again, Bootstrap blinked, and for a moment Jack saw the man who had once been his friend. “Yes,” he said softly. “Yes I can—”
He stopped dead, looking up sharply. Above them came a familiar thud-scrape, a limping walk. “He’s back,” Bootstrap hissed. “The Captain’s back.”
Jack followed his gaze to the ceiling, as if he could see through it. “Not good.”
And then the ship shuddered, shivered as if someone had walked over the graves of every soul it had carried. Bootstrap grabbed Jack’s arm, hauling him toward the door. “Get out!” he hissed. “Get out now!”
“All right, I’m—”
“We’re going down,” Bootstrap yelled, as the whole ship tilted. “We’re going down, Jack!”
Sea rushed in like a toppling wall, roaring with rage. Jack had time for a single gasp of air before it swamped him, tossing him head-over-heels, and slammed him hard against the Dutchman’s rotting hull. Above him he could see a square patch of sunlight – a hatch – growing smaller, and smaller.
Lungs burning, arms arrow-straight, Jack kicked off and swam toward the light.
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