Frederick Mercer watched from the shadows of the cabin as his prey entered. No, he corrected himself, not prey. Victim. Tool. Puppet. Any would serve to describe the relationship between himself and Lord Cutler Beckett – not that the fool knew it yet. But he would, and shortly.
It had taken little mental exertion to discover where His Lordship had stowed the source of his power over Davy Jones. Mercer had watched him for some time, such a small man holding court behind his huge pedestal desk; only a fool would remain oblivious to the concealed panel in its side. And only a fool would let such knowledge go to waste. All that was required was to wait for the opportune moment, and indeed, such a moment had just presented itself.
Dusk was close at hand and no doubt Beckett was eager for the day to come; the day that would see Jack Sparrow brought, once more, within his eager grasp. He’d pored over his charts all day, as Mercer had known he would, then gone to take his customary lap around the deck before his thin supper. During those few moments when his manservant had been absent, Mercer had slipped into the great cabin of the Endeavour and opened the hidden compartment; inside the heart pulsed, wetly. His fortunes, he thought, were looking bright.
Beckett paused a moment after he entered, appraising himself in the small mirror that hung near the cabin’s door and running one finger over each eyebrow like a dockside molly. Mercer smiled and stepped out from the shadows.
“Been a hard day, has it, m’Lord?”
Beckett turned with a start. “What the devil—? Mercer. Good God man, what are you playing at?”
“Not playing, sir. Not playing at all.”
Brushing himself down, endeavouring to appear composed, Beckett fixed him with an imperious stare. Mercer wanted to laugh. “Then explain why you are skulking in my cabin, uninvited.”
“Seems the tide has turned, Lord Beckett – to use a nautical metaphor.”
The man’s eyes narrowed. “And what tide might that be, Mr. Mercer?”
“Let’s call it the balance of power, shall we?”
Beckett scoffed. “Between you and I? I find that somewhat unlikely. Your impudence, however, will not go unpunished.” He made a show of sniffing the air. “Have you been in your cups, Mr. Mercer?”
“Never touch a drop. ‘Tis the tool of demons, that. Leads a man down paths he’d not otherwise walk.” He let that hang a moment, then said, “So I’ve heard.”
A flurry of unease skittered over Beckett’s face and he turned away, circling his desk – placing it between himself and Mercer. As he passed it, Beckett’s fingers brushed the panel which Mercer had so recently opened. “I care little for what you’ve heard. Leave, immediately, or I shall be forced to call my men.”
“Oh, I don’t think you will.” Mercer dropped into a chair and stretched out his legs, regarding Beckett’s restrained outrage with humour he didn’t bother to conceal. “You wouldn’t want them to know the real reason they’ll be fighting – and dying – here tomorrow, would you?”
“What absurdity is this?” But Beckett’s colour was up, his pale skin rosy as the setting sun.
“I hear he got you half-sprung before he seduced you like a maid.” Mercer smiled at the heat in the other man’s face. “Some say you kept him in your cabin for three whole days and nights, and that you couldn’t sit down for a week after you sent him off with that Letter of Marque and a cargo of black gold.”
“Leave at once.” Beckett’s voice was calm and deadly; few but Mercer would have noted the subtle tremor, or the fear it denoted.
Mercer settled himself more comfortably in his chair. “Don’t suppose the crew would be too impressed if they knew they were here to return Jack Sparrow to your bed, would they?”
There was a long silence in which Beckett stared intently at his desk, then he looked up. There was rage and, Mercer was pleased to note, humiliation in his face. “The crew will do as they are bid,” he murmured. “And the first thing I shall bid them do is have you flogged for insubordination and mutiny.”
“I don’t think you will.”
“Then you underestimate me.”
“No. You underestimate me.” Reaching into his breast pocket, Mercer retrieved his fleshy prize. Through the glazed windows of the cabin, the day’s dying light cast the room in colours of scarlet and gold. Mercer smiled. “While I hold this in my hand, you will do my bidding – Lord Beckett.”
At the sight of the heart, beating limply in Mercer’s grasp, Beckett turned ashen. “No…” It was a whisper, a plea to the heavens. “No, impossible.”
“A man who employs a thief and a murderer should be more careful where he keeps his treasures, don’t you think?” Mercer rose to his feet and strolled closer to Beckett’s desk. “I’m a man of simple tastes, Lord Beckett. I’ve no desire for your gold braid and rank, all I want is my share of the prize. Fifty ships, Jones says, anchored in that cove. I want thirty of them and if I don’t get them…” He lifted the heart, watched it glisten in the light. “What punishment do you think Jones will inflict on you, the man who’s enslaved and humiliated him before his crew? What manner of torment will he devise now that you no longer hold his pound of flesh in your hand?”
“I could order my men to cut you down where you stand.”
“Not before I summon Jones to—”
Suddenly the ship lurched; had they not been at anchor, Mercer might have thought they’d hit something. His attention diverted, he glanced to the door just as it was flung open by a wild young lieutenant, fear etched upon his face. “Sir!”
“What?” Beckett’s face was like thunder.
“Sir, something’s happened. The sea… It’s gone black as night. A terrifying sight, it is! And Jones, sir... Blimey, you can hear him howling from here!”
And, sure enough, he was right; a strange, anguished keening breezed in with the evening air. Rage and despair and grief, all mixed together. Louder it got with each thump of the heart that Mercer had hurriedly thrust back into his pocket. Louder, more desperate, more wrathful until—
“She is freed!” The creature appeared out of nothing in the centre of the cabin. His monstrous face was contorted by such rage as Mercer had never seen, such eternal fury it seemed as if the whole room was plunged into the midnight darkness of a battering storm. “The goddess is free!” Jones wailed. “Curse them! Curse their blood, curse their children! The goddess is freed!”
“You said it was impossible without your coin,” Beckett snapped. “You said—”
“Stolen,” Jones rasped, stumping toward them both on his deformed legs. “Stolen by that blood-cursed wretch, that thieving son of a whore!”
“Jack Sparrow?” Mercer offered.
Jones eyes were thunder-black. “Jack Sparrow.” His claw snapped at the air. “And I will have him, I will drag him back from the depths and peel his skin from his bones. I will send him to the Locker, flayed for all eternity!”
It was difficult to see in the dim light, but Mercer thought Beckett paled still further. “It seems he owes us all a debt.”
“Him and the other snivelling cocksure half-wits who play at King and Court! I’ll have them all.” He drew closer, his tentacled face fluttering in the strange darkness, his breath cold as the grave. “Summon the fleet. We go to war.”
There was a silence, a palpable shifting of power as Jones glared at Beckett and Beckett glanced at Mercer. Without a word, Mercer simply nodded his permission. “Yes,” Beckett said, returning his attention to Jones – it sounded as if the word choked him. “It seems we go to war, and that Jack Sparrow is the prize.”
Mercer merely smiled. Let them fight over the man, for he wanted only the gold. Oh yes, his future looked bright indeed.
There is darkness and there is silence and, above all, there is peace. Such peace as he has never known. Nothing exists in the stillness. Pain is a handful of dust, blown from his palm, not even enough to form a memory. There is darkness and silence and peace and all that has gone before matters not.
You are here.
Words drop and scatter, like diamonds on marble. He knows this voice, has heard it on the wind.
“Yes. I’m here… Where is here?”
Silence. Crystal peace. Pain is dust.
It matters not.
Memory shapes itself. “I died.”
Pain is dust and the past does not exist. And yet… “Who are you?”
You know me. You have heard my voice before. Did I not call to you? Did I not summon you as once you summoned me?
Is that what you call me?
“I… think so…What are you? Where did you come from?”
Rhythm pulses like a heartbeat, like a sound that is both ancient and eternal.
I am all and I am nothing. Beginning and end. Fire and ice. I am born of the earth and the wind and the sea. I am the stuff of stars.
“But what are you truly?”
You might say that I am life.
Gibbs walked the deck like a man cut adrift. Above him, the Pearl’s sails hung limp, her wooden boards creaked forlornly beneath his feet. Jack would’ve said that she was sensitive as a maid, this ship, that he could read whatever ills she suffered in the snap of her canvas or the pull of her rudder. But Jack was gone and his ship was just a ship - wooden bones that were as transient as the wind and that would, likely as not, end up rotting among the carcasses that piled up around them. Gibbs wondered what he was to do with his new charge.
He thought of the day they’d passed together and the tale he’d idly told, surmising that there’d be time left to tell tales aplenty. Only Jack, it seemed, had known that his story was soon to come to an end.
There are some things what a man can’t outrun…
“Mr. Gibbs?” Ragetti, timid and hesitant at his shoulder.
“What is it, son?”
“We was thinkin’, Mr Gibbs, should we do summink?”
“And what is there that remains to be done?”
“Well, the last time, we had a drink, remember? In Tia Dalma’s…in the swamp. We raised a cup to him, didn’t we? Me and Pintel was thinkin’ that maybe we should do the same again. Pay our respects as it were.”
And the world seems a bit less bright…
Gibbs looked away and closed his eyes. How wrong he’d been. For without Jack, everything seemed too bright. Too sharp and bright and real.
“Raise a cup if you want, lad. Won’t bring him back. Won’t make any difference to him now.”
“The wind shifts, Ragetti, but it never changes. So, tonight, dip yourself in rum and drink yourself blind, but don’t expect anything to be different when you wake up.”
The scrawny man turned away, looking downcast, but then he stopped and looked back.
“He was… he was a good man though, weren’t he? The captain? He was a good bloke? In the end, I mean.”
Gibbs frowned. “Would it matter?”
Ragetti shrugged. “S’pose not.” There was a moment’s pause and then he said, “Only… I think it does. I think it does matter. And I think you’re wrong about nothing changing, Mr Gibbs. I think a change’ll come and come for us all soon enough.”
Something unseen whispers in far off corners. It speaks of things unfinished and words unsaid. Pain is dust, the past is formless, and yet…
“What did I leave behind?”
Not what. Who.
You left nothing.
But shapes melt and shift, chasing each other through the blackness. Shades of cream and gold. He knows that he left something.
“What was I? Before?”
I do not know ‘before’.
But the words are fainter now, the voice echoes and fades, soft rain upon a calm ocean.
And so must you.
You have a journey.
“But my journey’s over.”
No journey is ever over. Change is not the end and you have a task still ahead…
“And what of you”?
I travel amid the stars. I am summoned and must heed the call. You will hear me again though, you will hear me again…
The Song is gone and there is peace once more, for he is alone. There are no words, for there is no one to hear them. And then he is travelling onward, for there is work yet to do.
Pain is dust, and yet…
In the distance he hears a chime, the sound of metal against rock, the sound of chains.
There is a task still ahead.
From his vantage point atop the cliff, Hector Barbossa would have had a clear view of the entire ocean, stretching out to the starry horizon, had his gaze not been fixed on a mark by his left boot. It had dried out now and the stain looked almost black in the moonlight; it seemed that her human form had gone right to the core and the goddess had bled as any mortal would. Blood had been spilt and the debt was now paid, yet it was hard to tell whether any great change had been wrought by what had taken place on this spot, just a few hours earlier. He was mortal, true enough; Calypso had paid the price he’d demanded for navigating death’s shores and bringing the Sacrifice to his end. Death’s clutching fingers had finally been prized from his heart, and yet everything seemed much as it had always been.
It was quieter now, that much was true; the only sound on the breeze was the lonesome cry of the gulls as they circled high above Shipwreck Cove. The Song was over, its strange melody no longer filled the air, and it seemed distant now, ephemeral and unreal, like the memory of a dream upon waking; Barbossa found that, even when he thought hard, it was impossible to remember the tune.
Far below, the Flying Dutchman rode at anchor, filthy and corrupt next to the grand elegance of the Endeavour. In the near distance, ships were gathering, ships bearing the standards of Britain and France and Spain. The Tyranny of Man, it appeared, was not so easily discouraged by heathen rites as the Brethren might have hoped; if the sacrifice was supposed to prevent the coming bloodshed, then evidently someone had neglected to inform Lord Cutler Beckett. War was on its way and nothing could be done to forestall it. Everything, indeed, was much as it had always been.
As he turned to make his way back down the cliff path, a dark shape in the docks below caught his eye. The Black Pearl. She looked so small from up here, so lost among the myriad wrecks that comprised the towering Cove. To think of the things he had endured to make that ship his own, the people he had betrayed, killed, the bargains he had made…. And yet now she seemed such a trifling prize when compared to all that was at stake.
Just a ship, he thought, just a ship. And as Barbossa set off down the path that would take him to war, it occurred to him that perhaps much was changing after all.
His eyes open and he finds the darkness gone, replaced by bright crystal light. He remembers his name just as the voice of another utters it - a voice ghostly yet lyrical, the hush of surf upon sand.
He rises to his feet and looks around, but he cannot see another soul. On either side are towering walls of glass or ice, smooth and blue, they stretch upward for eternity.
The voice comes from up ahead, he’s sure, but distance is hard to judge in this place and, though he’s walking forward, he thinks, perhaps, he hasn’t moved at all. But then he sees her, resplendent and majestic upon a crystal throne. Her head is bowed, her face concealed by a sleek curtain of obsidian hair, and it’s only when he draws near that he sees the chains and hears them rattle when she moves.
“I have waited for you.”
“I’m here now.”
“To free me?”
Her shoulders are shaking and he wonders what the tears of a goddess must look like. So, gently, he reaches forward, catches hold of her chin with his fingers and tilts her head to face him. The water in her eyes is clear and pure, but with the promise of rainstorms and maelstroms. There is power there that he cannot contemplate.
“You must cut my chains, Jack Sparrow,” she says, “that you may assume them in my stead. Such is the debt to be paid.”
“Cut them with what?”
“With the dagger, of course.”
And that’s when he sees the knife that lies deep in her breast. Blood trickles from the wound, running over her body, across the throne and down onto the white floor. He closes his fingers around the hilt and pulls the blade free with a grimace.
“Did I hurt you?” he asks, but she only smiles.
“I have endured a greater torment.”
He nods, not wishing to think on the details of two hundred years of suffering, and raises the knife again. The blade shatters her chains with a blinding flash and, when his vision clears, the goddess is standing before him, beautiful and terrifying.
“Thank you,” she says and takes his wrists in her hands. Her grip is hard and cold, like ice, and he knows that it’s time for him to take her place.
“The words are gone.”
Teague found her in the shadows of the empty Court, ribbons of light from the windows high above casting patterns across her face as she slumped in her chair at the head of the table. He was unsure if her statement warranted an answer and when he made no response she said it again. “The words are gone.”
“Aye, they’re gone.” It was true. When he’d ventured down into the cavern, after Jack had… after the ceremony was over, he’d found the walls unmarked by the words of the prophesy. All that it had foretold had come to pass and its purpose had been served. The words were gone. Apparently the lass had made the same discovery.
“So is the Song.”
“That too.” Teague walked over and lowered himself into the chair next to her. “There’s a battle yet to be fought, love, and a band of pirates what need their king to lead them.”
“I’m not a king, Captain Teague,” she replied wearily. “I’m someone you used to try and save your son.” He opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off with a wave of her hand. “You did what you had to do. I knew that. I’d have done the same in your position. My only regret is that he…” She trailed off and, for a moment, was so lost and so young, yet at the same time, old and tired. Then she cleared her throat and added with a false vigour, “So, as I said, I’m not a king at all. Put a sword in my hand and I’ll fight with the rest of them, but don’t expect me to lead your pirate fleet, Captain Teague, for only ruin lies in that direction.”
“You’re wrong, lass. There’s more to being King than rebel yells and calls to arms. Any blowhard can shout for men to hoist the colours, but that’s a glory short-lived.” Teague reached out to take her hand in his own. “Elizabeth,” he said, and she lifted her head to meet his gaze. “There’s a power in you that you’ve yet to realise. One that’ll last beyond the heat of battle.” Still she looked unconvinced, so he continued. “There are tales already, d’you know that? Tales of Elizabeth Swann, the Pirate King. And in time, they’ll grow wings and take flight; already, though, they’re a legacy in the making.”
Elizabeth gave a bleak chuckle and studied her fingers. “And what sort of legacy will it be? There are so many things that I regret. Wicked things that I’ve done...”
“Pah! I’ve a regret to match every line on me face, love, and then some. A life without regret is no life at all. Don’t make us wicked though.”
But she ignored him and carried on. “Things that I’ve done and that I’ve yet to do. I know what it is to hate, Captain Teague, what it is to seek vengeance. I want to spill the blood of those who have wronged me, to feel it hot on my hands. And even though I know it will stain me when I do, I also know that nothing will stop me should I get the chance to drive a blade into his throat. Does that make me a king, Teague?” She looked up at him, her gaze earnest, almost pleading, and he reached out to cover her hand with his own.
“No, lass,” he said. “It just makes you human.”
She dropped her gaze, apparently unconvinced by his claim. Wearily, he rose to leave, the weight of her guilt intolerable atop his own.
But just as he walked away she grabbed his hand tightly. “I’m sorry,” she said and in her voice he heard grief, pure and raw. “I’m sorry. I wish…”
Teague nodded, but words were beyond him now, and he fled the room before Elizabeth saw the saltwater that ran freely through the crags in his weathered face.
“You died for her.”
There’s a question there, but he’s unsure what answer he should give. “The task was always mine, was it not? There was a prophesy that said as much.”
“But she could have taken your place, had you allowed it. You died for her. Why?”
A thousand reasons and explanations run through his mind, but in the end it seems only the simplest of them all will suffice. “I love her.”
Her eyes flash at those words, keen and diamond sharp. “Love? I know love. It can bite and cut. It can turn a man’s heart sour.”
“Daresay it can.”
“You do not feel that pain?”
“I’ve endured worse.”
“And yet still you gave yourself for her. You died for her.”
“You know my reasons.”
She let’s go of his wrists, swirls and shifts in the strange crystal light, but he knows the release is temporary. “Didn’t she betray you?”
He baulks at that word. “There was no betrayal. She owed me no loyalty and I knew what she was… what she is. I would never wish her changed.”
“And still you love her?” For a goddess, she seems so naïve, so bewildered. “Though she hurt you? Abandoned you?”
“She is… she has…” But there’s too much to say, too many ways he could justify his heart, and there’s no time for such declarations; the crystal throne awaits. “Yes.”
“Even though she will never reciprocate the affection?” His heart no longer beats in his chest; he can feel its stillness and knows that soon it might turn to stone, but for now her words still pain him. He answers truthfully though.
“’Tis the nature of it, is it not? A gift is no gift at all, if given solely with the expectation of something return. ‘Twould be of no mind if she loved a sewer rat instead of me.” He spreads his palm across his silent breast. “Nothing would lessen this.”
Two hundred years, Lizzie. Two hundred years bound to an icy chair. Nothing will ever lessen this.
The goddess stands before him and in her eyes he can see waterfalls and mountain streams and fresh summer showers that wet the skin of sun-scorched sailors.
“How I have suffered,” she says in a whisper. “How I have longed for this debt to be paid, for the chance to wreak vengeance and unleash my wrath upon those who would chain me. And you would bear that wrath, Jack Sparrow. For ten score years you would feel my fury. Yet now you show me this - a love freely given.” She brushes her fingers across his cheek, a gentle caress by a hand that could crush galleons into driftwood. “I remember… I remember that I once dreamed of such a love, that I believed a man’s heart capable of loving selflessly and completely. But then I thought that such dreams were folly and that mankind was only capable of bitterness and hatred.”
“Oh, but we’re capable of that, love. We’re capable of that and so much more.” He glances down at the puckered brand upon his arm. “‘Tis the wounds upon us that make us so. Our scars are the maps to our souls, but it’s our choice where we have them lead.”
She snakes her hands down across the old, blackened marks on his chest, over his ink-cluttered skin, along his arms, and whispers, almost to herself, “Would that I could take them back, would that I could cleanse you…”
“I have no need to be cleansed, love, when nothing awaits but yon chair and manacles. Now, there’s a payment to be made and it seems I’m the coin of choice, so if there’s nothing left to be said here…” He frees himself from her drifting touch and walks to the throne.
Her hand around his wrist stops him. “Wait.” She pulls him back into a tender embrace. “You have given enough.”
“You have given of yourself, Jack Sparrow. The payment is made. I have no need of you here.”
“No torment? No two hundred years of bondage? Would you forgive us so easily?”
“It seems I have much to learn of forgiveness. And of humanity.”
A sudden impulse strikes him and he kisses her forehead. A goddess, so ancient and terrible, and with the knowledge of the ages, yet willing to forgive. Perhaps his death has achieved something worthwhile after all. “So what now? If I am not destined for limbo, what now?”
Her hands are upon his skin again, cold yet soothing, enveloping him with a strange balm. “You move on.”
“To where?” And he’s scared, suddenly, of what’s to come and what waits for him after.
“To a new life.”
“Hush, Jack Sparrow.” Her arms encircle him and she pulls him tight to her shoulder. “Hush and let me cleanse you.”
The deluge rushes into the crystal chamber and all light disappears, until nothing is left but the darkness and the deathly silence of his lifeless heart.