PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE AFRICAN STAR
Dawn rose up in glory as a new day filled the world. Towers of gold and banners of flame ignited the eastern sky, spilling their molten splendor wide upon the shifting face of the sea. Within the harbor sleepy pastel hues still painted beach and bay, while a faint haze hung above the blackened bones of what had once been a ship. But there were none to mark or mourn her.
Standing on a grass-grown dune above the shore, Norrington watched with some bemusement what daylight had brought. In the middle of the harbor the Dauntless stood at anchor, whilst much farther out, a mere toy against the sunrise, the Black Pearl waited for her errant souls. However, it was not merely the spectacle of pirate ship and war ship standing peaceably just outside each other's cannon range that held his attention.
No, it was the pale flames that danced beneath sizzling pots and the merry voices ringing along the peaceful shore. As the chaos of the night had faded, the orchards and village behind Biltmore's hacienda had produced an unexpected gathering, plain brown folk whose hands were rough with the work their master had demanded. However, their women took one look at the sixty-two wretched souls freed from Biltmore's makeshift prison, and embraced them all with laughter and smiles - and what smelled like most excellent cooking. Biltmore's kitchen, it seemed, had been quite thoroughly sacked.
Norrington had considered it only proper to send to his ship for what stores and aid he could spare, and he watched as his surgeon and several crewmen moved amongst the happily-chattering crowd. If he doubted for a moment any action he had taken, he had only to look on the shining smiles of the women on the beach below. He would remember forever opening those stable doors and seeing their pale faces in the gloom, like ghosts who had despaired of ever knowing release.
Somewhere a small drum began pounding out a rapidly-thumping beat and a wild flute or pipe struck up a strange, high-spirited tune. Just above the nearest fire was the music's origin, where most of the women sat like bright blossoms in the sand, laughing and talking amongst themselves. One eyebrow lifted as Norrington noticed quite a number of Jack's crew were also sprawled comfortably about the cook fires, availing themselves of the chance of food and celebration.
"It rather looks like a picnic, don't you think, sir?"
Lieutenant Groves smiled as Norrington turned his head and replied, "Yes, it does."
Some of the Pearl's crew, the commodore realized, he could now attach names to. Gibbs was telling a tale that he shaped in the air with agile hands, whilst the mute, Cotton, and his blue parrot watched. Original John and one of Norrington's own men, an equally large gunner's mate, were engaged in an arm-wrestling match atop an empty powder keg. Meanwhile the Irishman wore a silly grin on his face while he talked to one of the former captives, a pretty plump girl with Cupid's-bow lips and utterly charming dimples.
"A very large picnic." Groves frowned in contemplation. "With drums. And pirates."
Norrington sighed, but did not answer. Now the rapid tempo of the drum was joined by a rhythmic clapping of hands, a fast, fetching sort of beat for all its primitiveness, while the gunner's mate grabbed two sticks and began rapping out a syncopated rhythm on the rim of the powder keg. The women's smiles flashed gaily as their hands kept the pace that drum and pipe merrily followed. They were women of all colors, the commodore realized, dark and ivory and pale as white roses, each beautiful in her own way. Among them Elizabeth Swann shone like a brightly-colored lily while Will Turner lay contentedly in the sand beside her.
Then above the clapping hands, pattering drum and wooden clatter of the keg rose high, joyous voices in a song as clear as the new-born sun. The words were none the commodore had ever heard before, for those who sang bore the blood of faraway Africa. Yet here all colors were bound together in gladness; in this new music was something primal and pure and filled with light. Norrington listened and felt the awakening of a rare, marvelous buoyancy in his heart.
He looked to meet his subordinate's suddenly embarrassed expression. "Yes, Groves?"
"May I … may I go … join them?"
The smile that grew on the commodore's face seemed like the first real smile he'd worn in longer than he cared to think about. "Yes, Groves, you may."
Hands clasped behind his back, he watched as the young man hastened away, his dignity abruptly giving way to a sudden bound onto the beach. As Groves grew near the cooking and singing, several of the women began standing up, still clapping out the quick tempo as high voices rang and the wild pipe skirled and sang. Brighter now rang this song of ancient Africa, of liberation and hope, and even those who did not know the language joyfully chanted the syllables of the simple chorus. It was, Norrington realized, the shining voices of freedom singing.
While he watched, the tall colored woman, Bess, grabbed her swirling skirts and sprang into a joyful, barefoot dance. Magnificent, she was, so purely alive, as if the earth spun around her while the bright heavens wheeled above. In seconds her gleeful celebration drew with her every woman standing. A jovial shout of approval went up and ere another minute passed they were pulling grinning pirates and equally grinning sailors into the serpentine line of the dance.
"Sir?" Gillette, this time, his round face distressed. "The last of Sir John's henchmen have left. I am certain any number of them are wanted for any number of heinous crimes, but without warrants and on Cuban soil …"
"Very good, Gillette."
"Sir, what should I do about … them?"
Pulling himself back to the moment, Norrington directed his attention where the young man pointed. A hundred yards down the beach several of Jack's crew were toting large armloads of plunder down the dunes, towards their already-laden boats. Yes, far more than just Biltmore's kitchen had been sacked during the night. The hold of the Black Pearl must bulge with treasure by now.
However, Norrington found that he really did not much care what happened to a dead turncoat white slaver's goods. Instead, he found himself noticing that, over by the fires, Elizabeth had sprung up to dance, as well. Not a bounce behind her came Jack Sparrow, his dark eyes gleaming mischief, but Turner seemed to be anchoring himself to the sand in embarrassed refusal. Sparrow bent towards the young blacksmith with a flashing grin and whatever he said had to be a taunt, for Will's resistance abruptly ended.
"Sir? They're looting, sir."
"Mm? Yes, so it seems."
The dance was growing in size, snaking, turning, sweeping others into the sheer abandon of its pounding rhythm and high, gay voices. Elizabeth spun on the sand like wind-touched flame, her hair flying loose upon her shoulders as it never could in their own polite society, and grasping her right hand was Will Turner. They were fire and steel and white smiles, and they had never looked so perfect together. The commodore was not surprised to see Sparrow leaping after them with Anamaria in tow, the lady pirate laughing as brightly as the morning.
"Should I … that is …" Gillette bit his lip, scowling.
Norrington barely heard. Down there, they were dancing … and it was sunrise and the green hills echoed the drumbeat, heartbeat, born-of-earth song of freedom out across the waking sea.
"Gillette, do as you see fit. Just remember that we are in Cuba, where we happen to have little or no jurisdiction. Meanwhile …"
Norrington hopped a step down the dune and looked back up at his startled junior's face. He was a commodore in the Royal Navy in a battle-stained uniform coat, and his eyes suddenly glinted like a leprechaun's.
"I … am going dancing."
The wide seas of the Spanish Main had seen a great many things, but perhaps the creatures of the deep or the birds of salt air had not seen what the trade winds now blew. Though remaining respectfully apart, two ships sailed on the wings of the same strong breeze. The HMS Dauntless strode southward tall and proud, whilst far off her larboard beam a dark vessel forged its way, the Black Pearl also bound south again. Though unspoken and unacknowledged, this tenuous truce would last for but a little while. It was an event momentous enough that both sailors and guests aboard the Dauntless found themselves staring out at their peculiar traveling companion.
"Do you think we'll see him again?" Elizabeth asked, as she and Will watched the smoky sails out yonder.
"I should hope so," Will said and grinned. "He commissioned a sword and I already have his payment for it."
Not far away silvery laughter marked the presence of Bess, Sarah and several others of the ladies, happily taking in the bright sunshine. Behind them Norrington strode coolly along the deck, his presence a stern reminder to gaping sailors that they actually did have duties to attend to.
So it was by queer chance that warship and pirate sailed nearly together, when down along the coast of Cuba two sets of sails emerged over the horizon. Lookouts shouted while officers scrambled and ere long identification was clearly made. Coming to meet them were two great warships, each bearing the Burgundy Cross of Spain. Norrington's expression was thunderous as he shouted his orders and the decks of the Dauntless boiled with organized chaos. The lady guests of the Royal Navy were quickly hustled far below, and the fluttering blue jack of England shot defiantly to the maintop. Below decks the rumbling of guns being run out shook the ship's sturdy knees.
"Not … again," Norrington vowed grimly.
Wig and hat, sword and coat, he stood on the quarterdeck beside his helmsman and awaited the impending confrontation with coldly narrowed eyes. He would not stand a second time for the humiliation of Spanish inspection.
"Sir, will we … will we engage them?" Gillette's voice was tight with apprehension.
Without sparing him a glance, Norrington said, "That is entirely up to them. We will not initiate hostilities, by any means. But we will not tolerate being boarded like common smugglers again."
A sigh marked Groves' presence where he stood beside Gillette, before the other young officer spoke. "Let us hope their captains use good judgement, then. I've readied the signal flags, sir."
"Very good. To your stations, gentlemen, and Godspeed. Stand by for my orders."
Between glorious blue sky and heaving blue waves the deadly distance steadily narrowed. Two Spanish warships versus one heavier, but solitary, British ship-of-the-line; the odds could only be described as grim.
A quick thudding of feet preceded the appearance of a dark head on the steps to the quarterdeck, as Will Turner popped into view. His young face was alight with equal parts dread and excitement.
"Commodore, permission to come up?"
Ah, so the lad had learned a modicum of sea-faring courtesy. "Come."
Will sprang up the last steps in one bound and came to Norrington's side. "Sir, is there anything I can do? How can I help?"
"You may pray, Mister Turner."
Will's brow furrowed as he looked forward, eyes narrowing as he watched the twin sets of oncoming sails. "They're splitting up. They mean to come at you from both sides."
"Yes, they do. But we have the weather-gauge."
"The wind, Mister Turner. The wind is entirely in our favor. And the starboard ship does not handle her sails well."
Squinting, Will could not tell at this distance whether the sails were well-handled or not. Nor was he the least bit sure he would know if the evidence flapped right in front of him. Thus he simply nodded mute acceptance.
"The ladies are securely below?"
Startled, Will returned his attention to the commodore. "Aye, they are. The surgeon and the cook are with them."
"Very good. Then you will join them."
"But - I can fight! Commodore, I can -."
"Your job, Mister Turner …" Norrington turned to level a frigid stare at the young blacksmith. "Is to see that Miss Elizabeth Swann is delivered to her father safe and sound. There are also some very frightened young women, down there, who would benefit greatly from the company of a level head and cool demeanor, when and if all hell breaks loose up here. You will provide that comfort, Mister Turner."
The commodore sighed and turned his gaze out across the water once more. "And if this goes ill, you may be their last line of defense. See the arms-master for pistols and shot, on your way down."
Will's unhappiness at his orders was noticeable, but he turned away without argument. Yet before he reached the steps a shout rang from the rigging high above.
"Deck, ahoy! Bloody 'ell, Commodore, look at the Black Pearl!"
In the intensity of preparations Norrington had utterly forgotten the pirate ship cruising away off his larboard side. Indeed, had he given it any thought he would have presumed that Sparrow was piling on every scrap of sail he owned, in order to flee as far from trouble as possible.
He would have been wrong.
The Black Pearl had turned, and while she was indeed leaning beneath a remarkable press of smoke-grey canvas, she was not running away. She was bearing straight towards the Dauntless, and the white spume at her bow was becoming more visible by the minute.
"What in heaven's name is he doing?" Norrington stepped to the rail in disconcertion.
Will leaned beside him, peering in equal perplexity at the on-coming pirate ship. Suddenly he began to grin.
"Bide a moment, Commodore."
Norrington flicked a brief frown of annoyance, but made no reply. A long moment passed, the sailors and marines aboard the Dauntless now torn between anxiety about the Spaniards before them and the black pirate ship coming from their side. And then … ah, this time Will could see the movement in the Pearl's rigging, the high yards turning the sails to take the wind at a new angle.
Commodore James Norrington stared in unbridled shock. "Good lord …"
For yonder across the glittering waves, as neatly as if he had done this a thousand times before, Jack Sparrow was bringing the Black Pearl into line of battle. His gun ports were open and his station was firmly parallel to the course of the HMS Dauntless. Ahead the Spaniards seemed to waver, and then a fluttering became visible amongst their sails. Within seconds the two ships were turning, bearing away towards the distant coastline.
The entire crew of the Dauntless erupted into wild cheers, and their victorious howls may have been audible even to Sparrow's hearing. Will's own whoop nearly split Norrington's eardrums. However, the enormous gust of relief sweeping through the commodore left little room to care.
"That wily, conniving, devious fox," he said. Nor did it sound entirely like censure.
Will turned with a huge white grin. "He may be a pirate - but I think he'd rather keep you alive to match wits with."
Norrington was not sure what to make of that, but the cheers of his crew forbade any further comment.
"HUZZAH THE PEARL!" they shouted. "HUZZAH JACK SPARROW! UP THE BLACK PEARL!"
Within moments the two Spanish warships were no more than rapidly receding white shapes fading towards the Cuban shore. Not long after, the Black Pearl also began to drift away on a broad reach that might or might not have had Tortuga in mind. Silently, steadily, like a black-winged gull she sailed ever further, until at last the brilliant glare of sea and sky stole her from their view.
The final leg towards Jamaica slid beneath the Dauntless' keel as two young folk hung merrily on her larboard rail. Or rather Elizabeth Swann draped herself over the rail, whilst Will Turner hung just above her, clinging to the shrouds and leaning precariously to the press of the following winds.
"I love it!" she cried, and flung her arms as if to embrace all the wide sea and the sky and the birds wheeling above.
"Elizabeth, look!" Will beamed as he suddenly pointed forward to the froth at the Dauntless' bow.
There a sleek grey form arced to knife the waves and then there were two, three, four hurrying shapes just beneath the water's surface. Elizabeth squealed with delight as all four dolphins flung themselves into a merry race. Again and again they shot from the gleaming waves as swiftly as living javelins, to plunge from sight and then reappear at hurtling speeds. Frequently they flashed right beside the ship's plunging bow, but always slipped just out of harm's way.
"They say dolphins bear the souls of lost mariners."
Will twisted to look down at the source of the voice, and met Norrington's gaze. The commodore appeared surprisingly relaxed, considering the mayhem of recent days.
Elizabeth's mouth shaped a pretty O. "Really?"
"Yes." A faint smile curved Norrington's lips as he watched the dolphins' play. "And they can speak, after a fashion. I've met sailors who swear they can understand what they are saying."
He favored them with another smile, just a small one, but it found residence in the twinkle of his eyes. "Do try not to fall overboard, won't you? We're making at least ten knots and it would take some time to come back and fetch you."
With a prim little bow, the commodore walked away. Sighing, Will looked down into the rushing water below. Four smooth fins broke the surface and raced to become speeding shadows beneath the waves.
Four dolphins … four souls.
Her expression was worried when he looked down at her, so he dropped back to the deck. Leaning a hip against the rail, he reached and tugged her fingers to draw her closer.
"Do you remember that sloop you saw me on at St. Marcs?"
"Yes." Carefully she studied his face, reading the hidden grief written there. "I thought she was quite lovely."
"Her name was the Lady Elizabeth." Sunlight warmed his earnest brown eyes as he met her searching gaze. "If you will permit me, I'd like to tell you about her … and the men I sailed with."
She twined her fingers in his and turned her back so that she stood snugly inside the circle of his arms. There she leaned into him and clasped his hands firmly against her stomach. A blacksmith's hands. A pirate's hands. The hands of a man whom she knew loved her with a strength that was dizzying - and in whom she trusted more than just her life.
"I'd like that very much," she said softly.
"One was named Matty Whitlock," Will began, and rested his cheek against her hair as the breeze caressed them both. "He was a funny, skinny, red-headed fellow who played the most marvelous fiddle. I heard him play back in New Town, while Irish John sang. I think you would have liked him. One time …."
As his tale unfolded the quiet words became part of the voices on the wind; of rigging that hummed and seas that sang and the swift, gay shadows of dolphins. Broad white sails bellied taut and full as the solitary ship cast its shadow upon the glittering expanse of the deep. From around the curve of the world the trade winds blew, and the sea was carrying them home. Or perhaps they were home, and the sea simply bore them to the dreams that waited shining beyond the horizon.
by John Masefield
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,
And the wheel's kick, and the wind's song, and the white sails shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call, that may not be denied.
And all I ask is a windy day and the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray, and the blown spume, and the sea gulls crying.
I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gipsy life.
To the gulls' way and the whales' way where the wind's like a whetted knife.
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
(NOTE: To the best of my knowledge, the above poem was published before 1913 and has since passed into the Public Domain.)
Well … So that's that.
Odd, it feels rather empty around here, now.
I hope this tale has been a voyage worth taking for you, my good readers. The writing of it has been a journey whose scope I never anticipated. When I began, (way back in September) it was with no more than a vague, airy notion of writing a little something that might carry on the spirit of fun and adventure found in the original movie. Little did I know that it would evolve into a challenge of my writing abilities that more than once had me sitting with my head in my hands, wondering if I could ever pull this off. I have never written a tale so purely action-adventure. I have never had a plot so get up and run away with itself. I am not even sure if I have ever written anything this long, before. I definitely have rarely written anything that sent me so frequently scrambling for research and inspiration as this.
It was worth it. Whether you can see it or not, this story marks a writing achievement that I was not sure I could accomplish. I did not write this story so much as I pursued it, and a merry chase it was. Jack Sparrow truly is the very devil to catch, and that whippersnapper of a blacksmith kept surprising me, too. Not to mention a certain clever commodore. However, I had the support of a marvelous great lot of readers and honest reviewers who truly kept this story afloat. Not so much hearing that the chapters were going well, although that was uplifting, but it was the responsibility of the thing that kept me going. People were reading, people were caring what I wrote, and no matter how flat the muses went or how slowly the words came, I dared not let you down.
And that is something I could use a lot more of, the discipline to actually sit down and write, even when it seems I can't.
Do I have plans for a sequel? At this time, no. Folks, my brains are tired. I just finished writing a book. In about four months' time I wrote 32 chapters, which in MSWord is 253 pages and 97,450 words. But … if Jack should come swaggering around with another tale to tell, I most certainly will not turn him away. Or that blacksmith, either. :-)
Thank you all for being the wind in my sails and the stars I could steer by. Without knowing you were there, all of you … I honestly don't know if this story would have turned out half so well as it did.
It's been a heck of an adventure, mates. Thank you for coming along. May you have fair winds and following seas! I'll shout you a round the next time we're in Tortuga. ;-)
10 January 2004
"Pirates of the Caribbean" title, characters and concepts © Disney Enterprises and Jerry Bruckheimer, 2003
"Pirates of the Caribbean: The African Star"
An Over-Caffeinated Production
In Association with My Obsessive-Compulsive Tendencies
Captain Jack Sparrow and Commodore James Norrington
ErinRua in conjunction with copious doses of Folger's Classic Roast ™ and Hershey's Hot Cocoa Collection Dutch Chocolate ™
Assorted bedraggled muses who have now retreated for a long period of seclusion and rehabilitation, accompanied by soft lights and restful music.
Post Production Crew:
Celebsul, proof-reader - thanks is not enough!
Plus TheBlackPearlSailsFanFiction Yahoo!Group
Language assistance: Eledhwen Merci beaucoup!
Visuals and Special Effects:
My Weird Right Brain
To all my readers and reading friends, whose energy and encouragement kept the wind in my sails, when I began to fear I might drift off-course. Without you, this tale might not have been told or at least not told so well. Bless you all.
To the "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" creators:
Gore Verbinski, Jerry Bruckheimer, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
And cast including but not limited to:
Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly, Geoffrey Rush, Jack Davenport and Zoe Saldana:
THANK YOU for all your hard work, talent and spectacular imagination. I've not had so much sheer fun with a movie since "Indiana Jones" or "The Princess Bride."
"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" movie soundtrack
By Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer © 2003
"Gladiator" movie soundtrack
By Hans Zimmer, Klaus Badelt and Lisa Gerrard © 2000
"Master and Commander, Far Side of the World" movie soundtrack
By Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti © 2003
"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" movie soundtrack
By Howard Shore © 2002
The pirates seen killed in this story are actually retired in the Bahamas, with a personal staff, private beach and their own sailing yacht. It is not recommended that visitors bring any valuables with them.
Sir John Biltmore and Thomas Fry were eaten by Vietnamese potbellied pigs.
A Will Turner original sword was recently auctioned at Christies for $100,000 to an undisclosed buyer.
Sewing, mending, patching and chicken soup for the cast was done by Mrs. Mavis O'Malley, who is now living in a penthouse overlooking Central Park.
The Mexican who changed emptied rubbish bins on set every day is now CEO of a garlic cooperative.
Are you still reading this? Go home!