Everyone knows they aren't mine.
Face it, mate, fan-fiction writers are bloody pirates. ;-)
A/N: Here I have cheerfully mixed pure fantasy with bits of history and geography, so if you notice something familiar - only to see it fuddled by fiction - I'm only following the lead of the original scriptwriters. :-)
NOTE: The poem quoted at the beginning and end of this story is "Sea Fever" by John Masefield. To the best of my knowledge, it was published before 1913 and has since passed into the Public Domain.
Dear Readers - It thrills me to no end to find new people discovering this story after the release of PoTC: AWE. I wrote this story three years before, and I can't say how much it pleases me that it still finds readers. To all who have commented and/or included me on your Favorites, thank you. I regret other concerns forbids me answering every comment these days, but know that I read you and enjoy. Thank you, and may the fair winds blow your way.
Erin, July 3, 2007
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE AFRICAN STAR
I must go down to the seas again, to the
lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.
The little ketch Antoinette fled like a panicked sparrow, but there was no escaping the dark ship that strode in her wake. The hunter had appeared from the morning mist like a tall grey phantom and the Antoinette's captain and crew looked back in very fear. On she came like a gathering storm, her black hull knifing the waves beneath sails dark as storm clouds. Even while they watched, white spume burst thundering against the black ship's bow, for her tall press of canvas drove her as the ketch's lesser sails could not. Then a different white cloud blossomed at the hunter's fore, followed an instant later by a thumping boom - and a sharp splash off the Antoinette's starboard quarter.
A gun in the bows, the captain observed in despair, a mere forerunner for the gaping black ports now open in the black ship's sides. The message was clear enough. The captain thought once again of the eight guns in his own below-decks, but to offer battle now would be fatal. The Antoinette was honest and sea-worthy as a merchantman could want, but she was no match for the wolves of the sea.
A quick thud of feet preceded the panting, heaving appearance of a portly man, who hove himself onto the quarterdeck with such vigor the captain fully expected him to sprawl at his feet. Powdered wig askew and panic crimping his chubby cheeks, the man cried, "We must DO something!"
"We are, Master Bemis," the captain replied. "We are heaving to before she sinks us."
"Heaving -?" Master Bemis' several chins quivered amongst the froth of lace at his throat. "But my cargo! My ship!"
The horror on Master Bemis' plump face went unnoticed as the captain shouted his orders. Sailors leaped to obey and in seconds canvas thumped limply overhead as sheets were loosened and sails spilled their wind. The pursuer loomed towards them like a thunderhead as the Antoinette slowed and settled heavily in the water. Sailors gaped in horror to see that it was no illusion; the hunter's tall sails were indeed made of smoke-black canvas - dark as a pirate's heart. Amidst the rigging snapped a black flag, the dreaded Jolly Roger.
"What is that thing?" breathed a sailor in the little craft's waist.
"That's a pirate ship, ye daft chuff," replied one of his mates.
"Not just any pirate ship," quavered another. "That's the Black Pearl."
As colorful as their ship was dour, the pirate crew swarmed over the rails and from the rigging in a very flood of snarling menace. Harsh cries and the flash of steel drove terror into their victims' hearts, and two warning shots cracked smartly as crewmen dove for cover. Yet the little craft was not without courage, as seen when the Antoinette's bo'sun loomed to his full six-foot-four, roaring like a bear while he seized an iron belaying pin in one great fist. A grizzled pirate turned at a warning shout but his pistol was empty, and as he scrabbled for his sword the huge man swept the heavy pin high overhead. Then the bo'sun's eyes promptly crossed, went unfocused, and he toppled face-down with a shattering thud.
There behind him stood a lean dark blade of a man, wild-eyed with black hair to his shoulders and an abominable tricorn hat on his brow. Scowling at the man he had just felled, he lowered the hilt of his cutlass and observed his nearly-fallen comrade.
"That's a good way to lose your head, Mister Gibbs," he said.
"Thanks, cap'n," gasped the older pirate then vanished back into the fray.
Lifting his head the pirate captain turned a hawkish profile and keenly surveyed his conquest. Even among pirates he was a spectacle to behold. His wiry frame was draped in a long justaucorps coat whose wide cuffs were shiny with wear, its exact hue a forgotten mystery. A flintlock pistol was stuffed through the belt that clasped a long sash about his lean waist, a heavy baldric wrapped around his chest, and his legs were encased in boots to the knee. Most curious of all, however, were the tiny colored objects glinting in his tangled dark hair. That he was aware of his appearance was undoubted, for his pose was that of a man who expected eyes upon him.
Around him the brief resistance was ending in a series of thumped heads and cracked chins, as the remainder of the ketch's crew hoisted their hands in surrender. A supremely pleased smile lifted the ends of the pirate's thin black moustache and he squared himself in a wide-legged stance.
"Everyone remain calm!" he bawled in a voice rough with salt and sea-winds. "We shall detain you only a little while, provided we have your complete and full cooperation."
Then he pivoted gracefully to place himself nose-to-pudgy-nose with the quaking merchant. Gold teeth flashed in a bright, mad smile as the tip of a cutlass hovered just under Bemis' soft chin.
"Or don't. Fishes get 'ungry too."
Master Bemis went almost cross-eyed as he stared into the ink-dark eyes just inches from his own. A light within those eyes danced on the thin edge of sanity, and was framed by the most heathen collection of braids, beads, tiny trinkets and unshorn locks the merchant had ever seen on a human head. Even the man's goatee sported two tiny beaded pigtails.
Voice quavering, Master Bemis pressed his fingers to the lace bunched at his throat and asked, "Who - who are you?"
"Ohh, me apologies, mate," purred the pirate captain, and swept his hideous hat from an equally hideous red head-scarf and drew himself into a haughty pose. "You have the honor of being robbed by none other than the nefarious … Captain Jack Sparrow."
Replacing his hat he spun about once more and swept his arms wide - for it seemed he could make no gesture that was not extravagant - and his cutlass narrowly missed Master Bemis' bedraggled wig.
"Look lively, lads, we have a ship to plunder!"
A howl went up as the pirates swarmed the decks. Swords and pistols in hand they spread over the Antoinette like a plague, yanking open hatches, clattering down into the holds, throwing open boxes and kicking barrels. Heavy thuds below-decks brought a look of longsuffering to the face of the ketch's captain - and winces of almost physical pain to the round cheeks of Master Bemis.
From amidships where the ketch's crew now huddled under guard a voice rang out, the music of the islands clipped to a razor edge: "Sit yo' foolish self down, mon, if you want to keep that head on yo' shouldahs!"
The tubby merchant's jaw dropped. Lustrous black curls spilled from beneath one ragged pirate hat, matched by a pair of lovely but blazing brown eyes that currently glared through the sights of an enormous boarding pistol.
"Sweet heaven, that's a woman!" Master Bemis gasped.
"Ahh, Anamaria!" sighed Captain Sparrow fondly - then winced as the mulatta woman's fist bent a recalcitrant sailor double.
Sparrow leaned towards Master Bemis and touched a grimy finger alongside his nose. "Remember, mate - the female of the species is always deadlier than the male."
There a shout burst from an open hatch, followed by an ear-splitting shriek that turned every head on deck. Through the companionway exploded a virtual whirlwind of daffodil yellow and, still wailing at a glass-shattering pitch, a young woman fled pell-mell across the deck looking for all the world like a flying broomstick wrapped in a dozen yards of yellow silk curtains. Thereupon she flung herself bodily into Master Bemis' arms where she clung like a very loud limpet.
In the shocked silence only the young woman's muffled sobs were heard, as she wept into her father's lace shirt front.
Then a single voice spoke, as Mr. Gibbs muttered, "A woman on board is fearsome bad luck."
"Not if she's nekkid!" came a nasal reply, and a rumble of laughter filled the deck.
"You'll not have my daughter!" cried the merchant, grimacing as he tried earnestly to peel the girl off him and get at the rapier still sheathed at his side. "Jack Sparrow, you are a black knave and cursed to the darkest depths of hell!"
"No, no, mate, you got that all wrong." Sparrow spread his fingers in a depreciating gesture and his curiously slurred accent sped into earnest explanation. "The curse is now an ex-curse, y' see, and none of us 'ere was ever cursed - well, I was, but only for a little while so that doesn't really count - but the point is, the curse is lifted and the Pearl is free, and while we are black-hearted, light-fingered, opportunistic scoundrels, irredeemable scalawags and totally unfit for honest work, we are not -." One be-ringed finger jutted for emphasis. "Not cursed. Savvy?"
The young lady had found her breathy voice at last, peering at him with enormous blue eyes set in a doughy face, which was rendered nearly colorless by the brilliant yellow of her gown. She still, however, held a death grip on her father's lace shirt front, effectively smothering his weak efforts to defend her.
Wincing, Jack said, "Captain Jack Sparrow, love. Let's not forget that part."
"Ohh," the girl simpered, a soft hand fluttering. "I've heard of youuu."
Evidently her father had inherited all the chins in the family, as the girl had virtually none at all. Furthermore, the body inhabiting that expensive dress was bony as a stack of muskets; a fact noted when her soulful sigh failed to lift any measurable amount of bosom.
Jack blinked, the girl batted her eyes, and Master Bemis sputtered so that all three of his chins jiggled.
"Now, see here, Captain Sparrow! My daughter is not for the likes of you!"
In contrast the girl smiled winsomely, baring teeth so widely gapped that Jack wondered if she could peel corn from a cob without opening her mouth.
"Ahh …." For an instant Jack plucked gingerly at the air, as if grasping for a particularly elusive reply - then he clapped a hand to his breast and announced with deepest gravity, "Sir, I swear to you upon my honor and upon pain of a most miserable death, I will not touch your daughter."
The merchant wilted in visible relief.
"Thank you, Captain Sparrow."
"Ssst!" hissed one of the crewmen. "'E's a pirate, Mister Bemis - 'e don't 'ave no honor."
Sparrow scowled ferociously and the crewman cringed. "I'm a pirate, mate, not a despoiler of maidens."
Leaving Master Bemis and his men to decipher that logic, Jack turned to shout across the deck. "What do we have, lads? We can't stay 'ere all day."
"Molasses, cap'n," was the reply.
Frowning, Jack Sparrow peered at a bedraggled pirate who had just emerged from the hold. "Molasses?"
"Aye, scores and stacks of barrels of molasses. The 'old is packed with them."
"Aye, cap'n. We even knocked a couple open to be sure."
A glance downward revealed a sticky brownish substance dribbled on the pirate's bare feet and spattered down his trouser legs. A glance upwards revealed the pirate furtively licking dirty fingers - which he instantly clapped behind his back.
"Molasses." This time Sparrow spoke the word as a growl.
Jack spun and took three long, hard strides, halting not an inch from the swell of Master Bemis' lace-and-brocade sheathed belly.
"Molasses," he said.
Multiple chins waggled, and even the girl drew back from the heat in that dark-eyed stare. "Yes, mister - ah, captain," Master Bemis replied, recoiling as Jack leaned even closer. "We are carrying a load of molasses, ultimately bound for the Colonies. It's the latest thing there, sir."
Master Bemis began to wonder if this monotonic repetition indicated the man truly was mad as the stories said. He found himself staring at a little dangly silver trinket tied in Sparrow's hair, and nodded quickly as he clutched his daughter closer, foregoing all thoughts of his rapier. The pirate's mouth abruptly contorted in a horrifically fierce expression and he swept a rigid forefinger up - only to wave it silently as if strangled by a sudden fit of muteness. Finally he jabbed said finger at the girl's pallid face.
"YOU!" he barked. "You are definitely bad luck!"
Then he swung around and bawled, "All right, men, take what ye can! Sack the galley, turn out the sail locker, look for ropes and lines, and take any unopened barrels of water you find!" Dropping his voice in disgust he growled, "They can bloody well resupply their own water."
His black-browed scowl was thunderous as he planted a fist on one hip and stared across at the Black Pearl heaving gently alongside. A moment passed as his gaze traced the sleek lines of his waiting ship, and his expression oddly quirked into a one-sided grin.
Finally he cocked his head and with only marginal tunefulness he murmured, "We pillage, we plunder, we rifle and loot; Drink up, me 'earties, yo-ho."
Soon barrels and boxes were being carried across, though not laden with the valuables the pirate crew had hoped to find. Any stores or provisions that could be gotten without the risk of putting into port would not be refused, but a dull frustration underlay the swift work of transferring their meager cargo. No prey, no pay was the pirates' maxim, and this day there would be nothing that could be turned to profit. They were a subdued lot as the pirate crew began clambering back aboard the Pearl.
"Not as we'd hoped," said Mister Gibbs, as he came to a halt beside Jack on the Pearl's quarterdeck. "But at least we'll eat well for a few days."
"That we will," Jack replied, drumming his fingers on the hilt of his sheathed sword as he watched as the last flour barrel settled to rest on the deck below.
Gibbs' blunt, grizzled features registered perplexity as he noted a peculiar little smile playing about his captain's lips. Not that peculiar smiles were unusual, given the mercurial nature of the man. However, Jack's current grin widened until a glint of gold teeth caught sunlight and he lifted his gaze towards his topmasts, his tanned angular features painted with something suspiciously like smugness.
Hesitantly grinning in return, Gibbs asked, "Wot ye thinkin', Jack?"
"On luck and ladies," Jack replied, and cocked his head to regard Gibbs with gleaming eyes. "Yon fat man worried for one jewel, but 'e forgot to mind the other."
Puzzled, the older pirate could only squint at his captain and hope for a somewhat more comprehensible reply. Jack's self-satisfied smile became full-grown as he lifted both hands in a foppish pose.
"Pay day, mate," he said. "Enough for every man 'ere to drink 'imself stone blind, and eat like a Roman every day for a month."
With a dainty flourish Jack Sparrow pretended to pluck something off Gibb's collar - and there between his grubby thumb and forefinger exploded shards of sunlight, which fractured off the faceted face of the jewel nestled therein. A brooch it was, bearing a brilliant green gem in a heavy gold setting, which was studded with lesser gems that fragmented light and color across their faces. Whether in its setting or as individual stones, such a piece as this would fetch a splendid price, even on the black market of the Caribbean.
"By all the powers …." Gibbs breathed. When he could pry his gaze away, he gave Jack a sudden fierce grin. "Ye pinched it right off 'is sweatin' carcass, didn't ye?"
"Like pickin' apples, mate." Another delicate gesture and the exquisite ornament vanished back up Jack's sleeve, or wherever it was he kept such things. "Nearly missed it amongst all those chins and lace."
Chuckling heartily, Gibbs turned to look at the little Antoinette, now set free and slowly drifting astern. "Ye're a most uncommon thief, Jack."
A sudden hail from aloft caught their attention, and both Gibbs and Jack looked up.
"Aye, Mister Duncan?" Jack called.
The lookout in the maintop mast cupped his hands, shouting his report to the deck below. "Sail ho! South-southwest, hull down but I can see her sails. She's a big 'un, cap'n!"
"What do you make it?"
"Hard to say yet, cap'n. But that much canvas, I'd bet it's Royal Navy."
"Look alive, you scabrous dogs!" The familiar rough voice of command rang across the decks of the Black Pearl. "Hands aloft, I want full sail. Hand's a-deck, stand by to trim!"
Instantly men swarmed into the rigging and high overhead dark canvas rippled and thumped. Then as commands were shouted and carried out, the sails bellied full and bright water slid whispering past the ship's sleek black hull in a steadily rising pitch.
Jack handled the wheel with a surgeon's dexterity, eyes aloft to the set of the Black Pearl's wings as he felt the deck tilt and surge beneath his feet. No matter that in an instant they could turn from hunter to hunted. No matter that the day could end with them fighting for or even losing their lives. Here there was only the vast dark sea and a horizon that bent away to the ends of the world. Here Jack Sparrow could fly.
Miles across a glittering expanse of ocean, the HMS Dauntless put her breast to the heaving waves and made the most of a square-rigger's wind. On the war ship's decks a trim, erect figure in Navy blue stood with legs braced and hands clasped in the small of his back, his keen eyes sweeping the lift and fall of the far horizon. Well abaft and off his port beam two Royal Navy frigates hove their steady way like faithful hounds following their master. A fourth, lesser ship limped half a mile to starboard - downwind, the Dauntless' commander amended with a mental grimace, for the living cargo the Royal Venture carried was noisome in the extreme.
"I wonder if Sir John Biltmore is as wealthy as they say."
At this new voice Commodore Norrington turned his smooth-shaven face to see the young commander of his marine detachment standing just behind him. Lieutenant Gillette presently aimed his own studying gaze across the water.
"He is, Gillette. That is but one of several merchant vessels he owns."
"Ah. And I've heard his family is involved in many other ventures. Is it true, then, that he also owns a diamond so grand that the King himself offered to buy it?"
"Yes. The African Star. Said to be nearly perfect in cut and clarity." Norrington paused in contemplation. "No one knows precisely how he came by it."
"Remarkable. I do wonder that he would choose to captain a slave ship, though." Gillette's round features twisted in a brief moue of distaste. "You'd think he would prefer something … cleaner."
Only the faintest flicker of dislike marred Norrington's composed features. "There is no accounting for taste."
"Aye, sir." Gillette nodded then added, "I've heard the crews of slavers are generally little more than cutthroats and brigands."
Without further remark Norrington let the conversation end, for personal opinions had no place on a Navy deck. They simply did their duty. The merchant vessel had hailed them that morning appealing for an escort, on account of having suffered storm damage three days before, and so they obliged.
"Ahoy, the deck!"
Norrington lifted his gaze towards the cloud of white sails above. "Aye, tops?"
"Ship, sir, on a reach north-northwest. I can't quite make what she is, sir, but she has a fair bit of sail."
Mouth pursed, Norrington considered. They were much too far to make out colors, if the ship flew any, and even if they abandoned escort it would take hours to win a position that would enable them to overtake the distant vessel.
"Sir, there's another sail! Smaller, and it appears to be bearing in our direction. Give or take a few points, sir."
"Very well. Continue our present course and keep watch. If he wishes to hail us, he can see us."
With that Norrington about-faced and returned to the business of patrolling the blue, sometimes bibulous-natured waters of the Caribbean Sea. They should see the Royal Venture safely to Port Royal by midday tomorrow.