Here it is, everyone. Last chapter. But the story doesn't end here…
Ambrosia of the Sea
With all her strength, Elinor pulled on the trapdoor in the bathroom. It was hidden beneath a Middle Eastern prayer rug that her father had bought on one of his many trips. Fantastic blues and golds poured over the surface, now flipped up toward the sink.
She hadn't even thought of it until she was already dressed. The plum gown lay in the corner, crumpled and forgotten. The door in the floor hadn't been opened in so long Elinor feared it had rusted shut. Sweat glistened above her brow as she rolled up her sleeves and gave it one last try.
"About time," she huffed as the door flew open and fell into the floorboards. Frozen, she listened for any sign that Barbossa might have heard her. She knew she was taking too long in the bathroom for any normal person. Hearing footsteps, she slipped onto the ladder leading to the darkness below her. She heard a hard knock as she flipped the rug back in place and quietly closed the door. Lingering only a moment, she listened to the captain's dull roars.
Then she descended. The darkness consumed her as she climbed; a cold chill ran down her spine. She had never liked this path and therefore rarely took it. Where did it end up? Elinor had forgotten. She knew it eventually led to the brig but there was something she would find before that. Sunlight dared not to venture to this part of the ship, so she relied on her careful feet to find the ground.
When they did, she remembered.
Taking a sharp left she stuck her hands out in front of her, searching for the wall. Despite wandering in an open space, she felt the darkness coiling around her, suffocating her. Her breath quickened as she took careful steps. Later she would think herself ridiculous for behaving as she did in the dark space, but the truth was inevitable: she was afraid of the dark.
When Elinor's hands came in contact with wood, she breathed a sigh of relief. Groping up and down, she finally found the latch she was looking for. Sunlight streamed into the area as she opened the small porthole. The prominent smell of salt and sea seeped through to meet her nose. She inhaled deeply as a breeze rustled her hair.
Outside the surface of the ocean lapped but a few feet below the porthole. This room was an escape route hidden from everyone but her father—until his daughter found it on accident.
Behind her was a small rowboat. Beyond that were cupboards that housed two days' supplies should they be needed. Elinor went to them, her stomach lurching. Nothing but cobwebs lined the shelves. She swore quietly, slamming the doors and looking back to the boat. It looked much like the one she had used to get aboard the Pearl in the first place.
How she regretted that rash decision!
Inside was a pair of oars. She picked one up, relishing in the fact that her father once held the same item. After checking the vessel for damage, she went back to the window. Below it was another trap door. This one swung open easily. A faint glow and the dull scent of iron and sweat drifted through the opening. She looked below to the two empty barrels that would easily hide anyone who wished to remain unseen.
After closing the window, Elinor climbed down to the brig.
Luckily there was no one on watch to see her lose her footing on the last rung and tumble into the barrels. Luckily they were heavy enough to withstand her fallen weight.
Regaining her composure, Elinor stood and walked to the only occupied cell.
"Elinor! How did you…?" asked a stunned Bootstrap as she slid down the bars and rubbed her aching shoulder.
"Captain's gotta have her secrets, eh?" She smirked. In the soft light she could make out Bill's tired face and tense body. He seemed to relax only a little at the sight of her.
"Barbossa's gonna kill me," he said after a moment.
"Were yeh just up there?" he asked sarcastically. "He hates me…always has. He has no use for me an' now he's a reason fer killin' me off." Elinor couldn't bring her eyes up to his; she knew it was true.
"You shouldn't have protested—"
"Someone had to. Those bastards deserve to be cursed." North silently agreed as Bill reached in his pocket and pulled out a coin. "And remain cursed." The light reflected off the coin and caught Elinor's eye. Before she could ask Bootstrap took her hand and placed the treasure in it.
"I need yeh teh do somethin' for me," he said, his eyes determined. "I need yeh teh send this to my son."
"You have a son?" Elinor inquired, taken quite by surprise. Bill nodded.
"Yes, in England. Bristol. His mother is a hat maker—"
"Why did you leave them?" she interrupted. Bootstrap sighed.
"I was only s'posed teh be gone a few months. Then it was either join Jack or die alone…at least this way I had a chance of one day seein' them again." Elinor nodded; it was a logical choice. "Not anymore," Bill said softly, looking at his hands. "God, he must be near six…maybe seven." He looked up, as if the answer was written above him, or he was trying to remember his son's face.
After an awkward moment of silence, Bootstrap stuck his hands through the bars and held Elinor's palms, his eyes pleading.
"Please, yeh must give this to 'im. Just get it as far away from Barbossa as yeh can."
"How will this keep them cursed?" she asked, holding the coin up to get a better look at the engraving. The skull seemed to wink at her, and it sent chills to her very core.
"I was the one who translated the inscription fer Barbossa…but I didn' tell 'im everything." He paused as a storyteller surrounded by eager children. "Only by puttin' all the coins back can their lives be returned." Elinor thought that solution to be too simple, but didn't voice her opinion.
"Did it say what the curse will do to them?" Bill shook his head.
"Not sure. There were other marks, but I couldn' make 'em out." He thought a moment. "Obviously, they've aged overnight…Barbossa 'specially. He's going teh get the brunt of it." North nodded in agreement. "Serves him right, mutinous bast—" He froze suddenly, hearing footsteps coming down the stairs. Elinor jumped to her feet, slipping the coin in her pocket as Bo'sun appeared on the steps. The large man's eyes grew wide as he stopped at the sight of her. She kept her eyes on him as she walked passed, smiling jubilantly.
"Fraternizin' with the prisoner, eh?" Barbossa asked as she emerged. He was caught off-guard at the sight of her, but recovered quickly. He would find out later how she had escaped her own room.
Elinor ignored him, looking over the men who stood on the deck. An evil grin hung on every face. The evening sun broke through the thick fog for an instant, casting a hideous shadow on all the faces. She saw two men pulling a cannon loose from its position, cackling as they did so.
"What's going on?" she asked, turning to Barbossa. He just smiled. Elinor knew it was the evil grin of the devil. His eyes turned to stone, his heart now black. North felt like she was in a dream—a nightmare, no less. Everything seemed to float around her; black shapes laughed at her, knowing something she didn't.
Suddenly she was pushed aside as Bo'sun pressed through, dragging a struggling Bootstrap from behind. He was led to the canon, now positioned at the opening the plank usually lay. There a rope was tied around his ankles.
"Make sure that knot be nice an' tight, boys," Barbossa said as he brushed passed Elinor. She was confused until the other end of the rope was secured to the cannon.
"What?" she said, taking a step toward the prisoner.
"How do yeh kill a man that can't be killed?" the captain teased, putting an arm out to stop her. "Yeh send 'im teh his own private hell." He motioned for the men to take their positions around the canon. "A watery grave where he'll ne'er escape," he whispered in her ear. He didn't have to hold her back; he knew that she knew it was hopeless. There was nothing she could do for him.
So she stood—limp, her heart pounding in her ears, her head heavy. Bootstrap nodded to her. She reached in her pocket to reassure him then nodded back.
"Say 'hello' teh Jack fer us, eh Bootstrap?" The crew whooped as the cannon was pushed into the sea, but Elinor couldn't hear. The world had stopped all but Bootstrap. The rope was long enough for him to see the gun break the surface. North watched in slow motion as the line disappeared beside the pirate. She brought her eyes up to his, a look of pity on her face.
Bill swallowed hard. He would never see his family again—his beautiful wife, his steadfast son. The last thing he saw as the slack disappeared was the hope in Elinor's eyes.
Then his feet were pulled out from under him. His head hit the deck so hard he was knocked unconscious before being dragged down into the water. Elinor was thankful for that much; at least his death would be that less painful.
There was clapping and cheering when her ears opened up again. Barbossa laughed, clasping Bo'sun on the back. Elinor looked down to her cold ankles, where the fog had drifted aboard. It snaked around her legs before following close behind the captain.
He did not shiver as she had when the serpent curled around him.
North looked around, unsure of what to do with herself. It seemed she had become invisible, a ghost, a memory. Time pressed on but she remained caught in a moment. Only one thought, a single word, flashed in her mind.
Now that Bootstrap was gone, so was her comforting feeling, a sense of safety and sanity. All that was left was Barbossa.
With only that thought driving her, Elinor slipped down into the brig. She no longer thought of her precious ship, her memories of the past. Without pistol or cutlass, she climbed the ladder hidden behind the barrels at the back of the hold. The darkness was more ominous than before. It gripped North with sharp talons, piercing her lungs. Her breathing was irregular, her body tingled with fear. It took her longer to find the window, despite moving faster.
There was no sunlight when she found the porthole, only a dull eerie glow that bathed the room as if in a dream. The sea, however, was calm. For this Elinor was grateful. She only needed the light to find the latch and line for the door. Squinting into the shadows, she walked toward the stern. After clearing the cobwebs, she unhooked the latch and followed the line back into the corner. The rope felt slimy in her hands, old and musty. This exit obviously hadn't been used in a long while.
With all her strength, she carefully let the line slip through her hands, lowering the drawbridge at the back of the Fates. Fog poured into the ship, clouding her vision. She couldn't see passed the end of the dock. How was she supposed to find her way to land?
"Not the best night teh go gallivantin' 'round the Caribbean, lass."
Elinor spun so fast she nearly lost her balance. There, at the foot of the ladder, was Barbossa. He smiled, obviously pleased with himself at his discovery.
"Stay away from me," Elinor said sternly as she picked up one of the oars. The captain ignored her and walked around the space, taking it in.
"Impressive," he commented, noticing the ridges on the floor that cradled the boat. "Never woulda thought teh put one of these in the Pearl" Elinor watched him closely as he circled, surveying the workmanship, the ingenuity. "So, plannin' teh take an evenin' stroll, are we?" he asked when he was finished.
"Not 'we'," Elinor retorted. "Just me. I'm leaving."
"And just where is it, lass, that yeh think yeh be headed?" Elinor lowered her weapon.
"Just away from here," she said softly, kneeling to undo the ropes holding the boat. A pair of faded boots stepped into her line of vision. She rose to face Barbossa, who seemed to search her eyes—for what, she didn't know.
"Yeh don' have teh do this, lass," he said softly, placing his hands on her shoulders. North glared at him. "The Fates still needs a cap'n. I'm not about teh give up the Pearl fer a smaller ship."
"Get one of your own to do it," she replied, pulling away from him.
"I'd rather have yeh." Elinor's lip curled. Of course he would.
"Yeh know her best. An' yeh amuse me." North snorted, placing her hands on her hips.
"Anything else?" Barbossa's smile faded. His hand went to his pistol, but only brushed it before falling to his side. It was obvious she had her mind set on leaving. So he turned away from her and walked back over to the ladder.
Elinor watched closely as he picked up a sack and a cutlass.
"Yer dagger an' pistol are in here," he said, handing her the bag. She opened the sack and pulled out a bottle of rum.
"So yeh can numb yerself before yeh die," he stated matter-of-factly.
"I could just kill you now and eat you later," she shot back. "Or I could just take Jack with me," she stated as the monkey slipped down the ladder and onto the captain's shoulders. Barbossa took him in his arms, cradling him like a mother her child. Elinor dropped the bag into the boat after pulling out her weapons. She attached them to herself, feeling complete again.
"That's not all, lass." Opening the sack once more, North pulled out a brilliant green apple. Her eyes grew wide with surprise and fruitful lust. "Apparently, the cook's been holdin' out on me," he said, answering her questioning look. Elinor stuffed the fruit in her pocket, next to Bootstrap's coin. She reached for the final item.
"That apple should hold yeh over till yeh reach Tortuga." She looked up to him, disbelief written all over her face. What was he doing?
"Northeast, about a day's row…or night, as it were." Elinor noticed the lack of contrast in the area. Colors were fading fast.
"I best be on my way then," she said, pushing the boat toward the water. "Send me off, cap'n?" she asked as she stepped in the boat and raised the oars. Barbossa obliged.
As Elinor drifted behind the ship, Jack slipped off of the captain. Both stared at her—an ominous look that startled her. She shook it off and yelled back.
"The dress is on the bathroom floor; it's yours!" Barbossa shook his head discreetly; it was already in his closet aboard the Pearl. He tipped his hat to her and turned to close the hatch. Elinor watched quietly as he disappeared behind the boards. As she rowed, the fog reflected the light of the moon. Slowly, the Fates, with the Pearl next to her, faded into the haze.
"Cap'n! The woman's escapin'!" someone shouted as he emerged on deck. He nodded, heading to the bow.
"I know." Twigg stepped up to stand beside him, confusion masking his face.
"Where's she headed?"
"Tortuga? Shouldn't she be heading southeast?"
"Aye," replied the captain, never taking his eyes of the fading figure.
He didn't like it when people refused him.
In the morning, Barbossa ordered his men onto the Pearl as Pintel and Ragetti created a fuse in the Fates' hold. It led to the large barrels of gun powder held there. They sniggered as they lit the fuse and exited the ship.
Barbossa watched, as he would many years later, a magnificent ship sink to the bottom of the Caribbean. Then, without looking back, he ordered his men to make for Tortuga.
It was time to put all that gold to good use.
Sequel to come soon…