“Sparrow!” Davy Jones hurled the name into the storm, into the very arms of the goddess who had spurned him. “Jack Sparrow!”
Behind him he sensed a shuffling unease, the low muttering of his wretched crew. The stench of hope was everywhere; Jones almost laughed. Did they sense freedom upon this cursed wind? Did they dare to believe that either man or goddess could end his dominion over the seas? “To your stations!” he bellowed, lashing out with blade and claw. “Run out the triple guns!”
They scrambled away, his crew of desperate nearly-dead souls, and he stomped back toward the helm. Yet one lingered, pale flesh still more human than not, meek-eyed and week; Turner, father to the cur who had stolen the key. Jones pushed him from his path, sending the man staggering. “Change course!” he yelled to his crew. “I’ll see the Pearl sunk or send you all to the Locker!”
“Pardon me, Captain.” Turner’s voice was as humble as his stoop-shouldered gait. “But have you noticed the Pearl’s course?”
Jones blinked the rain from his eyes – her rain, sweet and soft as spring, like vitriol upon his heart. He snarled. “Do you take me for a fool, man?”
Turner shuffled backward. “No, sir. I only meant— If they know the heart is upon the Endeavour…?”
They mean to stab it.
“A fool’s gambit, Teague.” His gaze flew to the convergence of ships - did Sparrow mean to take his place upon the Dutchman? He almost laughed at the prospect. Oh, the man’s heart was black enough to make the world tremble, but the only way Jack Sparrow would ever sail aboard the Dutchman was as part of the crew.
He seized Turner and shoved him at the helm. “Set course for the Endeavour.”
“Aye, Captain,” said Turner, a glint of life in his beaten eyes.
But Jones had no time to ponder it, for his attention was drawn inexorably toward the dull ache that never eased – toward the pain of her betrayal, lodged in his still wretchedly beating heart. He had lived so long without it, he wondered if his heart still held power of life and death over him. Could a knife through such a distant piece of flesh really cause him harm?
The emptiness in his chest told him that it would, for the rage that had consumed him for ten-score years still boiled in his salty veins. No man but he would hold dominion over the seas! No man but he would captain the Dutchman. Lifting his face to the storm he cursed the heathen goddess in all her forms, and let time and sea-spray curl about him.
When he opened his eyes he stood within the Endeavour’s great cabin, the angry shouts of battle already rattling the ship. Keeping to the shadows, Davy Jones approached the open door…
Elizabeth saw James crumple, saw him slump to the deck beneath Mercer’s cruel blow, and the fury that surged in response was as sharp as the sword in her hand; while Jack and Will seemed frozen – the whole deck seemed frozen – Elizabeth sprang as if between the raindrops, her sword raised and the taste of vengeance bitter upon her lips.
Mercer barely raised his weapon in time to deflect the first ringing blow, staggering beneath it and forced back a step. He moved as if encumbered, one hand clutched to his side. Perhaps he was injured? So much the better.
With each blow she dealt him, she saw her father’s face – saw his joy turn to pain and to glass-eyed death. Felt the warmth of his blood upon her fingers. Mercer stumbled, she pressed the advantage, driving home a two handed blow that he barely parried and then—
And then, through the storm, rose a monster. Close on the starboard bow the lethal prow of the Flying Dutchman surged from the deep, its massive shadow plunging them into darkness, and the pervasive stench of death washing out in foul waves.
It took only an instant of distraction for Mercer to escape. He was over the rail and leaping for the Dutchman’s bowsprit before Elizabeth could take another step forward; he caught it by a miracle, as the great ship ploughed past them, and was gone.
But as the bowsprit swung away, the Dutchman was almost board-a-board, and Elizabeth saw her chance. Sheathing her sword she leapt onto the rail, running lightly until she caught hold of a rat line. Behind her she heard someone shout her name, but didn’t turn to see who, for as the Dutchman came around and her guns were run out, Elizabeth seized her chance and flew.
The rain lashed, but the wind almost seemed to lift her and carry her – further, even, than she had hoped – until it slammed her hard against the stern of the ship and she scrabbled one handed to hold on. The Dutchman’s hull was slick with rot, but her cold fingers found purchase and she hung on for dear life as the ship shuddered with the deafening boom of canon fire. On the Endeavour she heard men screaming and dared not look back. Grimly, she glanced up toward the deck and began to climb.
Jack hit the deck as the Dutchman opened fire. All around were the shrieks of the wounded and the barked orders of navy men hopelessly out of their depth; no one had told them you couldn’t fight the Dutchman with canon and shot.
He was on his feet an instant later, but Elizabeth was already gone. For a second he froze solid, but then he saw her – black against grey – like a spider making her way up the stern of Jones’ cursed ship. He grinned, and felt his heart split jaggedly between pride and terror.
“Fickle,” Beckett observed, rising to his feet. Jack didn’t miss the shake in his hands as he brushed his coat. “From Commodore, to blacksmith, to pirate. One wonders where she—”
Will, rash as ever, had a blade to the man’s throat before Jack had drawn breath to reply. “Say another word about Miss Swann and I will kill you where you stand.”
Beckett eyed him. “I’m surprised you’re so keen to defend her honour, Mr Turner. After all—”
“Where is the heart?”
Jack smiled, stepped over Norrington – who was had begun to stir– and raised his blade to join Will’s. “You know, mate, Mr Turner has a tendency to rashness. I suggest you answer his question before he gets impatient.”
Reluctantly, it seemed, Beckett turned his gaze on Jack. The familiar arrogance was there, overlaying decades of resentment. Resentment and… With a strange sense of unease, Jack recognised the other emotion as hurt. Betrayal. It was so familiar he could almost taste it, so long had he carried the very same pain in his own heart. Beckett smiled coldly. “Do you really think me so foolish as to keep the heart about my person, Sparrow? Or, indeed, upon this ship?”
Will’s blade pressed closer. “We know it’s here. Tell me where, or die. The dead, after all, are easier to search than the living.”
“Easy, Will…” Jack lowered his weapon, stepping forward. “We can—”
“The heart is quite safe, I assure you. It’s in a box upon my desk. In Port Royal.”
A beat of panic flared in Will’s eyes, before a voice behind them croaked, “He’s lying.” Turning, Jack saw Norrington struggling to his feet, one hand pressed to the savage cut upon his head.
Beckett stiffened, breath catching. “Sparrow…” he warned, but Jack ignored him.
Norrington was shaking his head as if to clear it, and Jack could well imagine the cacophony of bells inside his skull. “Mercer has it,” Norrington said. “Mercer stole it…”
“Mercer?” Will echoed.
But Jack had seen. “The Dutchman,” he said. “He’s taken it to the bloody Dutchman!”
Will’s gaze flew to the bleak ship that sat, now, some hundred yards off their bow.
“Dare say Elizabeth could use another sword at her side, mate.” For an instant Will’s eyes met Jack’s and something – some acknowledgement – passed between them. Then Will nodded. “To the Dutchman, then. I’ll—”
A laugh like the devil – like the madness of the Locker – reached up to rival the storm’s thunder, and down to shake the bones of the Earth. Jack turned slowly, blood chilling as he saw Davy Jones step from the shadows of the Endeavour’s Great Cabin. “Well, well,” said Jones, stomping forward, “what have we here? Jack Sparrow… Your debt is not yet paid, boy, and the Locker awaits.”
Jack took a nervous step back. “Paid another debt, as it happens, and in full. So I say we’re quits, eh?”
“And I say your place is in the Locker, being fed upon by demons of your own devising. Which is exactly where you’ll go…once I’ve dealt with another matter.” He turned impossibly fast and his blade was levelled at Beckett’s gut. “You, Lord Beckett, will learn the price of enslaving the master of these seas...”
Beckett paled, shrinking back as he fumbled for his weapon, and Jack seized Will’s arm. “Go,” he hissed. “Do it. I’ll hold him here.”
“Now, Will. Time’s run out.”
With no more than a curt nod, Will was gone. Jack had no time to watch, for at that moment Jones lifted his blade for a killing blow and he found himself obliged to intervene.
The impact almost numbed the fingers of his sword hand, but Jack held Jones at bay and flashed him a fierce grin. “How about it, mate? Just you and me. To death or glory, what say you to that?”
Davy Jones snarled his contempt, Beckett forgotten for the moment, and the battle was joined.
With each flash of lightning, the jagged lines of the Dutchman were drawn in stark relief against the thickening sky. Elizabeth blinked against the rain, the water’s urgent flow matching the rapid coursing of blood through her veins. Her quarry’s scent lingered in the air and Elizabeth knew that, one way or another, this was the beginning of the end.
Dragging herself over the rail at the stern of the ship, she kept herself low, avoiding the crew who swarmed across the lower decks, manning the guns that bombarded the Black Pearl and the other ships. This was a dangerous path she had chosen; if she was spotted she was as good as dead, but she would not turn back, would not rest until Frederick Mercer’s blood wet her blade. All she had to do was find him.
Then she saw it, illuminated by lightning, a flash of brown fabric darting down the quarterdeck steps. Tightening her grip upon the hilt of her sword, Elizabeth pressed herself close to the rail and followed. When she reached the main deck, there was no sign of her quarry, but there was only one place he could have gone. Elizabeth crept towards the Great Cabin, the metallic taste of fear, anger and anticipation, sharp upon her tongue.
The doors closed behind her, shutting out the force of the storm, and Elizabeth gagged at the fetid stench of standing water. The cabin’s dark interior was dismal; Jones’ rage and despair had soaked into the very wood of the walls. Nothing, however, embodied his wretched sorrow more than the grand organ at the end of the room, its pipes encrusted with scum and its keys rotting away. How could any living creature bear such surroundings? But there was no time to ponder Davy Jones’ sad history, because two things were certain – Mercer was here, and he knew she was too.
“Face me.” She was glad that no tremor betrayed her fear. “Step out and face me.” There was no movement in the room, no sign of life. But then…
Elizabeth cocked her head, listening. There it was, a steady double-beat, low and on the edge of her hearing. But hear it, she could – the thump of a human heart.
“I can hear it,” she said to the shadows. “I can hear his heart, but I have no interest in it. It may give you power over Jones’, but you hold none over me. The only heart my blade will pierce this day will be your own.”
There was silence for a moment, but then the darkness spoke. “You’re a girl, Miss Swann. A silly girl playing at pirate.” The voice echoed around this strange room, hiding the whereabouts of the speaker. Elizabeth’s eyes flicked back and forth, alert and wary.
“Step out and play the game with me, Mr Mercer. See how much I’ve learned. See how much I know.” But the darkness remained still and the only sound was the muted roar of the battle outside. Mercer had been playing this game longer than she.
Now was the time for Elizabeth to choose. She could either remain in this impasse indefinitely, achieving nothing, or make her move and search the shadows, leaving her back exposed.
She stepped forward, still scanning the hidden depths of the cabin, each shadow shifting into the form of a man, the echoing beat of the heart surrounding her, filling her head. A sudden movement from behind startled her and she spun, sword drawn, to find a drenched figure framed by the open door of the cabin.
“Elizabeth!” And she understood the warning in his cry, just as the blow across the back of her head sent her crashing to the floor.
The monster meant to slay him. Beckett saw enough human emotion in its beast’s eyes to know that much and, despite Sparrow’s bluster, Jones would not be distracted. He swung his weapon without grace, more like the headman’s axe than a sword, chopping and raging as Sparrow held his ground.
Beckett retreated into the great cabin – away from the battle and the furious storm – his sword clasped tight in icy fingers. How long since he had used it in anger? Twenty years, perhaps. Longer… The blade might gleam, but the arm that wielded it was rusty and tarnished, aching from the blows Jones had rained upon him before Sparrow intervened – Sparrow, who fought as though it were a dance, loose limbed and lithe as he avoided more blows than he parried. “Did you think it would free you?” Sparrow needled, retreating in increments toward the cabin. To Beckett’s fevered mind it almost seemed as though he were defending the cabin door, standing guard. A fantasy, of course. “Cutting out your heart, mate. Did you think it would free you?”
“Freed me of her for two hundred years!” spat Jones. “And longer, had you not interfered.” He lashed out, but he was angry and Sparrow easily dodged the blow.
“Don’t call it freedom when any navy milksop can lead you around like a leashed dog.”
With an inarticulate cry of rage, Jones slammed his clawed arm toward Sparrow’s head. Jack ducked, rolled, and sprang to his feet in an instant, but he was inside the cabin now and Jones stood like a spectre of death in the doorway – Beckett realised they were both trapped.
“And what know you of freedom, Jack Sparrow? The Locker calls to you still, and an eternity of chains awaits.” Jones cocked his head, fluttering flesh as if tasting the air. “I smell betrayal and hatred, the air is rank with it still.”
“Perhaps it’s your own stench you smell,” Sparrow said, taking another step backward and lifting his blade. “Two hundred years is a bloody long time to hold a grudge.”
“A grudge?” He spat the words. “You know nothing of my pain…”
“Do I not?”
A lump tightened in Beckett’s chest, his skin heating; Jones’ words touched something dark and deep, something long hidden. And then Sparrow looked at him, no more than a glance spared from Jones, but enough to punch the air from his lungs. Was it regret he saw in those striking eyes?
“You’re not the only one what’s ever felt that pain, mate,” Sparrow sighed “Nor likely to be the last, neither.”
Jones snorted. “What do you know of—?”
“I know this,” Sparrow said, advancing. “I know that pulling the trigger after ten long years is a cold and empty gesture, I know that a man what nurtures vengeance and hatred is soon no man at all. And, most importantly, I know there’s only one way out.”
“Death.” Jones spat, nostrils flaring with an ancient boiled down anger. “And of that I am master.”
But Sparrow shook his head. “Not death, mate. Compassion. ‘Tis the only course to Fiddler’s Green.”
“Compassion?” Jones scoffed. “Aye, and was it not compassion for those poor lost souls that put you in my debt to begin with?”
Beckett swallowed hard, a flash of memory bright in his mind. Sparrow, bleeding and broken, set adrift beneath a merciless sun, his ship burning in clouds of tar-black smoke. How cold and empty he had felt, watching that little dinghy drift until the midday sun had dazzled it from view...
“Maybe it did,” Sparrow said, jolting Beckett back to the present. “But who’s to say it weren’t meant to put me in your debt, eh? Some might call it fate.”
“Fate? You’ll find your fate on the end of my blade, Jack Sparrow!” With a huge lunge, Jones was inside the cabin, Sparrow dancing out of his way. Beckett crept around the walls, eyes fixed nervously on the battle as Sparrow retreated and retreated again, drawing Jones further into the room. And that’s when Beckett understood what he was doing – he was opening up the doorway, providing a way out.
Jack Sparrow was helping him to escape….
He stared at the man, rainwater replaced by a sheen of sweat on brow and chest as he fought Jones’ frenzied attack. Why would he help him escape? A trap? A trick?
“Now!” Sparrow yelled, catching his eye between blows. “Go!”
The doorway was wide open, the hammering rain slanting sideways across the deck. Outside Beckett knew he could gather the men, overwhelm Jones. Save Sparrow… He darted for the door, heart hammering, no more than ten steps from freedom when—
Something sharp and razor edged speared his arm, flinging him hard against the wall. His head slammed back, pain exploded in his shoulder, and he tasted blood.
Jones’ face was only inches from his own. “Compassion?” he hissed, his fish-stench breath overwhelming, and yet nothing compared to the blazing agony in Beckett’s shoulder. He risked a glance down and saw that Jones’ blade had pinned him to the wall. As he felt the blood gush from his body, the monster smiled. “You’ll find, Lord Beckett, that my compassion equals your own.”
With a grunt Jones wrenched free the blade, and in a spasm of bright pain the world turned sparkling grey around the edges and Beckett was falling…
Will watched, stricken with horror, as the butt of the pistol smashed across the back of Elizabeth’s neck and she crumpled to the floor. The gun spun in Mercer’s hand and Will heard the click of the barrel being cocked. Then the only sound of which he was aware was the rush of blood through his ears and the loud thumping of his heart that seemed to resonate throughout the cabin. Will was already in motion before he realised his legs had propelled him forward, in a flying leap, towards Elizabeth’s assailant. The shot cracked, drowning out his echoing heartbeat, but Will couldn’t bring himself to turn and see where the bullet had landed, though he was agonizingly aware of Elizabeth’s prone form at the corner of his vision.
Mercer struggled below him, pistol still gripped in his hand. He brought it round, trying to squeeze off the second shot, but with a sharp jab of his elbow, Will knocked the weapon from the man’s hand. Then he brought his fist down across the side of his face, bursting open a bloody slit above his eyebrow. Mercer threw his arms over his head as Will rained blows upon him, but through his anger one rational thought was still pin-sharp in the front of his mind. The heart.
Seizing Mercer by the lapels, Will dragged him to his feet and slammed him against the bulkhead, wrapping his hand around the man’s throat.
“Where is it?” His breath came thick and furious.
Mercer pulled his lips back in a sneer, baring blood-covered teeth. “You think I’d be stupid enough to keep it with me?”
Will slammed him into the rotting wood once more. “Give it to me!”
But Mercer only chuckled. “Let me share something with you, Master Turner. Let me educate you. For unlike yourself, I know how this works. I know exactly how this scene plays out.” Will set his jaw, wary of the game Mercer was playing, frustrated at his own inability to second guess the man. “You, son,” Mercer continued, “are going to persist in your assault – as you can see you have quite the upper hand – and repeat your demands that I reveal the location of Captain Jones’ heart, a location which, I should point out, I have no intention of divulging.”
Angered at the man’s apparent lack of distress, Will drew the back of his hand across his cheek. “Tell me where it is!” he roared. Mercer spat blood, grinned once more and carried on with his narrative.
“Now the thing is, Turner. I’ve been at this longer than you. Got a few more tricks up me sleeve, as it were. Some old tricks, some new, some so bleeding obvious you wouldn’t believe they still work and, any moment now, I’m going to employ one of these tricks to my advantage. And you won’t even see it coming. Because you don’t think like me, see? You, son, haven’t got a devious bone in your body.”
“You say that as if I should wish it otherwise,” said Will, his voice a low growl.
“You should, son. You should.”
“And why desire the scruples of a man like you, Mercer?”
“Why, Mr Turner, so that you might defeat a man like me.” Mercer offered a bloody smile, but then, almost imperceptibly, his eyes flicked to a point over Will’s left shoulder, a slight frown creasing his brow. In that moment Will saw the first glimmer of alarm on the man’s face.
Will turned, his hand still gripping Mercer’s throat. But Elizabeth was still out cold on the floor and realisation came too late. With a savage blow, Mercer knocked Will’s hand from his throat and, in an instant, Will found his arm bent painfully behind his back, his face pressed against the cold, wet boards of the bulkhead with the sharp point of Mercer’s blade against his neck. All the while, the steady thump rang in his ears and it was only then, when all was lost, that Will realised the echoing heartbeat did not come from his own chest.