Pirates of the Caribbean: The Story of Bootstrap Bill
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Author's Note: the characters of Pirates of the Caribbean are the property of Disney, and used here without their creators' knowledge
or permission. PG-13 for some violent themes. December, 2003. 36,000 words.
Port Royal, 1718
"G'morning, Miss Elizabeth."
Her first instinct upon seeing a stranger on the doorstep was to draw back, one hand going to her middle in an age-old protective gesture.
The man's gaze followed, and his face split in a broad, beaming grin that bowed his bushy sideburns out on his reddened, grizzled cheeks.
She gasped. "Mister Gibbs?"
"Aye," he said, tugging away the false beard and moustache and eyepatch that had left her initially unable to recognize him. "How d'ye like me disguise?"
Elizabeth floundered, then recovered her wits. She darted a swift glance around and saw that no one else seemed to be paying undue attention. "Won't you please come in?" she asked.
Gibbs entered the house, his expression turning appreciative as he took in the fine furnishings.
They had arranged a compromise, she and Will and her father. These surroundings were far less opulent than those of the governor's mansion on the hill, but, as she often reminded him, they were considerably nicer than the smithy loft that had once been his lodging-place when he had toiled thanklessly as Mister Brown's apprentice.
"No servants?" he asked, shifting from one hand to the other a large bulky sack.
"A cook and a maid," Elizabeth said, hearing that same defensiveness in her voice that she'd heard when first her father, and then Commodore Norrington – their first dinner guests, an affair rather stilted by all that went unsaid – had placed much the same question.
Indeed, the curious gimlet eyes of the housemaid peeped down through the railings of the second floor landing. Elizabeth sent her scurrying back to her work with a single raised brow, and beckoned Mister Gibbs into the parlor.
He stood uncertainly on the rug, the sack at his feet, twisting his hat into a shapeless crumple. His waistcoat was straining at the buttons, and she noted that he had some sort of squarish parcel imperfectly tucked inside it.
"Will you join us for tea?" she inquired, already on her way to the small passage that gave onto the kitchen.
Inside, she was bubbling with curiosity, a tea kettle herself ready to sing with questions rather than steam, but her father always said that manners should come first.
What her father would make of her manners, entertaining as she was a pirate in her very parlor, she couldn't hazard a guess.
Of course, Mister Gibbs had not always been a pirate. When they had first met, twelve years ago, Elizabeth had been a girl not yet on the cusp of womanhood and Gibbs had been in the royal navy. He had been an officer from time to time, even rising as high as bo'sun or first mate, before a few too many nips at his trusty and well-worn flask led him slipping back in rank to a common sailor, or lower.
And, of course, Port Royal had not always been like this. It had once been such a pirate's haven, despite nominally being under English rule, that Henry Morgan himself had been considered governor. He was known for opening a keg of wine in the very street and obliging all passing sailors to stop to drink with him.
"Aye, some tea would go down nice," he allowed. His hand crept to a pocket – she was almost certain he was unconscious he did it – and she hid a smile in the knowledge that he'd be sure to tip that selfsame flask to 'hearten' the tea.
She went into the kitchen and asked Cook to prepare a tray, then hurried to the back door. Their yard was high and fenced, climbing with vines. The air was heavy with balmy breeze and the sweet scents of the sea and tropical fruits. A few bright birds chattered in the boughs, scolding the resonant clangs and scrapes that came from the building at the far end.
"Will!" she called, lifting the hem of her skirt as she trod the stepping-stone path.
The clanging stopped. A wooden shutter swung open and her husband leaned out. Several strands of his brown hair had escaped his ponytail, his forehead was stippled with beads of sweat, and his face and leather apron were streaked with grime. But his eyes, as deep and dark and soulful as her own, warmed as he saw her, and made her heart skip and flutter.
He came to her, wiping his strong hands on a rag. "Elizabeth." Two years married, and he still said her name as if tasting a fine wine.
She nearly danced in place. "Will, Mister Gibbs is here."
"What? Here? In the house?"
"And … the Pearl?" They gripped each other as her giddy excitement swept them both.
"I haven't asked. I've invited him for tea."
Will laughed, that quiet boyish chuckle as if he had never quite learned the way of roaring aloud. It was one of the hundred, nay, thousand things about him she loved. But his eyes danced and sparkled, just as she knew her own must be doing. He looked down at himself and shook his head in chagrin.
"I'll clean up, shall I?"
"Be quick," she said, brushing a soft kiss on his lips.
They returned to the house, Will rushing upstairs. It was silly, she knew. Mister Gibbs had seen them both at their soaked and bedraggled worst. He had – her cheeks burned to remember it – seen her in outfits that would have made any decent lady clutch her head and swoon in shame.
Mister Gibbs stood in the parlor exactly as she'd left him. Perhaps he feared to move.
Once her father had finally understood her and Will's intention to have a home of their own, he had insisted on lavishing them with gifts. The house, yes, and decorated to suit the style to which he thought she'd been accustomed. Little knowing that as far as Elizabeth cared, she could have lived quite happily in the little loft over the blacksmith's, so long as she'd had Will there with her.
"Please, do sit down," Elizabeth said as Cook bustled in with the tray. "Will is just upstairs. He'll be down in a moment."
Gibbs perched on the chair as if afraid its delicate legs might snap under him and dump him to the carpet. Elizabeth busied herself pouring, feeling as she did an almost irresistible urge to hum. And she knew just the tune, oh, yes.
Will appeared, his hair wet and slicked back, his face clean, struggling to secure the tiny pearl buttons at the high collar of his shirt. "Mister Gibbs! It's good to see you."
"Not going to throw a pail of water on me, are ye, young Mister Turner?"
"Today, I was the one more in need of a bath." Will rubbed his chin, which was coarse. "No time for a shave, though. When Elizabeth told me …"
"It's such a welcome surprise!" Elizabeth said. She gave Gibbs a tea cup, which looked dainty and out of place in his thick, scarred fingers.
"What news?" Will asked, sitting forward eagerly on the edge of his chair. "Is the Black Pearl here?"
"Ah, now," Gibbs said, scratching the back of his neck, "much as we respect your Commodore Norrington and all, we didn't think as it was wise to sail the Black Pearl straight into your harbor bold as brass. No, I came alone. Booked passage out of Tortuga."
"Tortuga," Will said, and smiled. That port city was now all that Port Royal had once been, and perhaps more. The clergy called it the new Sodom and Gomorrah, and when their exhortations for temperance and chastity fell on deaf ears, they pleaded with God Almighty to strike it down just as he'd struck down Port Royal in 1692.
"You've never yet told me all that went on there," Elizabeth reminded him in a sweet voice, just to watch him fidget.
He cleared his throat, dug a finger into his collar. "Alone, Mister Gibbs? Why?"
"Jack asked me to."
"How is Jack?" Elizabeth asked. "He's all right, isn't he? Not ill, not hurt?"
"Not jailed?" Will added.
"Aw, you know Jack," Gibbs said. "He's had himself slapped by a fair number of ladies since last you saw him, but that, he's used to."
"I shouldn't wonder," murmured Will.
"I'm sure he deserved it," Elizabeth said archly. "But it is good to know that our Jack Sparrow is as much a devil as ever."
"Aye, Miss Elizabeth – or should it be Missus Turner now?"
"I am Missus Turner, but please, Mister Gibbs, call me Elizabeth."
"Well, Miss Elizabeth, ye're right … he's still Jack Sparrow, sure enough. Not so much driven as he was, though, not now that the Pearl's his again."
"We have not heard many tales of the Pearl," Will said. "Don't tell me, Mister Gibbs, that you've all given up pirating?"
"Ye say that like ye miss it, boy," Gibbs said. "Jack was right about you."
Elizabeth touched Will's arm and smiled at him. "He's a pirate."
"Once," Will said. "I'm back to blacksmithing now."
"Are ye? Jack's gone on and on about those swords ye made."
Will nodded. "But what about you? What about Jack? Surely he hasn't turned into a … a legitimate businessman."
"Bah," Gibbs scoffed. "I'll admit there's not so much call for pillaging, not since we went back and took all the plunder that old Barbossa had stored up."
"Oh, my," Elizabeth whispered.
She remembered that cave, would remember it the rest of her life. Though she had been in a state of icy terror, captive as she was of men who were not men at all but cursed undying skeletal monsters, she had still not been immune to the wonder of the treasure. It had been heaped all around the grotto. Gold, glittering gold in coins and platters and chalices and necklaces. Silver. Jewels. Long ropes of pearls. Heathen idols. Gem-studded crowns.
"All of it?" Will asked, his tone guarded.
Gibbs snorted. "Not that, man. We're none of us that great of fools, for God's sake."
"No, that stone chest with its deadly accursed Aztec gold, we left untouched," Gibbs said. "T'was a sorry scene there in the cave, I'll tell ye. Bones everywhere, and what be left of Barbossa –"
"We remember," Will said, and Elizabeth shivered. "We were there."
Not all of Barbossa's crew had died in the final battle, which took place partly aboard the Dauntless and partly down in the cave. Several of them had surrendered at the end, not wanting to throw away their restored lives once Will and Jack had released the curse.
She did not like to think of what had come of that.
A part of her still felt pity for them. Though they had been cruel to her, would have killed her, had in fact marooned her and left her to die on a deserted island, she had an inkling of what their empty existence might have been like. She had felt that way herself after pledging to marry James Norrington though it was Will she loved. Had circumstances forced her to go through with it, might not she have felt the world was grey, ashen, hollow?
And those who had been given their lives back lost them a few days later.
The multiple hangings had not been the island-wide spectacle at the fort that Jack's was meant to be. Fearful that at any moment, the captives might revert to their unstoppable, immortal state, Norrington had ordered them up the rope with all due speed. Their bodies, reduced once more to bones and rags, still swung at the entrance to the harbor as a warning.
"Aye, sorry, that ye were." Gibbs stirred his tea. "One thing, though … d'ye happen to remember that monkey of theirs?"
"Yes," Elizabeth said, grimacing. "The horrid little beast."
"That horrid little beast were waiting for us in the cave. It had gotten back into the chest, gotten itself another coin, as Jack found out when he slashed at it. Bugger sprang back up and went for his face, it did."
Thinking of those awful fangs, Elizabeth shuddered. "What did you do?"
"Killed it," Gibbs said. "Took some doing. It'd gone and hidden the coin, and that were a mighty lot of swag to search through. All the while, we had that monkey penned up in a barrel. Ye should have heard how it screeched and scrabbled."
"But I take it you found the final coin," Will said. His thumb was absently rubbing the white line of scar across his palm.
Elizabeth looked down and saw that she was doing the same. She, Will, and Jack, all with their matching scars, as if bound in blood to some pact or contract.
"Found it, aye." Gibbs sipped, then set the tea aside as if the story had shrunken his appetite. "Then we popped the lid open just enough for it to reach out, and when it did, Jack had him. Sliced him, and back went the coin. For good measure, we slung some chains around that chest and padlocked 'em, and sunk the works into the deepest part of the grotto. Should anyone ever now go looking for Isla de Muerta, they'll find naught but the bones to give it that well-deserved name."
"So it's over, then," Elizabeth said. "All of it, finally and truly over."
"But for this bit." Gibbs picked up the heavy, bulging sack at his feet. "Jack wanted ye to have this."
He hefted it at Will, who caught it easily and then nearly dropped it from the weight. Metal clinked.
"What … what is it?" Will's dark eyes were large and wide. "Not …"
"See for yerself," Gibbs said.
Will spilled the contents across the carpet. Elizabeth caught her breath. Gold and silver, rubies, emeralds, pearls, diamonds, cups, bracelets and more rolled in a sparkling river from the mouth of the sack.
"Oh, Mister Gibbs," Will said. "We can't –"
"Ye can and ye will, that's what Jack says," Gibbs replied. "He says ye should think of it as partly being yer share, and partly being yer inheritance."
"My … my what?"
"Yer share, boy. For a time, ye were part of Jack's crew. Ye were Jack's only crew, before the two of ye found me in that Tortuga pigsty. And yer inheritance as well, as a goodly sum of this plunder should have belonged to yer father."
"Elizabeth, what should I do?" Will asked her, his expression so dear and earnest.
"Take it, Will," she said. "It's yours."
He scooped up coins and gems and let them run through his fingers. Elizabeth knew that although he was entirely confident in her love for him, he had never fully felt that her father approved of either his birth or his station.
Governor Swann, the man who had helped restore order Port Royal, that man's only child marrying a blacksmith? A boy of no family, no fortune, who had been found floating in the debris of a fiery shipwreck? Yet here was wealth to rival any governor in the islands, treasure enough to impress anyone.
Will let jewels cascade into her lap. She touched his arm and would have kissed him, if not for Gibbs looking on like some indulgent uncle.
"And there be this," Gibbs said, squirming as he tried to extricate the bulky square parcel from his waistcoat. He held it out to Will. It was large and flattish, wrapped in frayed and faded cloth, and tied with a hank of twine.
"What is it?" Will asked, accepting it. He untied the twine and unfolded the cloth to reveal a scuffed and battered leather-bound book. It resembled a journal, a ledger, or a ship's log.
"Yer father's diary," Gibbs said. "His sea-chest and effects were long gone, but old Bootstrap had himself a hiding place aboard the Black Pearl. Jack found the book there and thought as how you might want to have it."
"My … father's …" Will's hands were trembling. She had never seen his hands tremble.
As he stared at the book, too overcome to speak, Elizabeth looked back to Mister Gibbs.
She had heard from Will the story of how his father had left home with the intention of becoming a merchant sailor, and had somehow become a member of the crew of the Black Pearl. 'A good man, a good pirate,' in the words of Jack Sparrow, and the only one to speak out against the mutiny that had left Jack marooned.
Then, as the true and awful implications of the curse became clear, it had been the senior William Turner who sacrificed himself by sending away a piece of the forbidden gold to his son. He had done this to keep the curse alive, and make sure that Barbossa and the others suffered eternally for their wickedness.
She burned with curiosity about the contents of that diary. Her husband's father's tale in his own words. But she wondered, for Will's sake, if this was for the best. It had been a hard and bitter pill for him to swallow, that initial revelation of his father's piratical past. Her lovely Will had come to terms with it, largely through finding out for himself that, yes indeed, some pirates could be decent and honorable men. Had, in fact, come to be proud of it.
Suppose, though … suppose that there were ugly truths in that diary. Truths that Will would be unable to deny, written as they would be in his own father's hand. He had hated himself for a time, there aboard the stolen Interceptor. She did not know if she could bear to see him hurt like that again.
"So, er," Mister Gibbs said, faltering, bobbing his head at her. "I take it, Miss Elizabeth, that there be congratulations in order?"
"Yes," she said, fondly stroking the gentle curve of her stomach. "The sickness, I could do without, but at least for now I am shut of those horrid corsets. It'll be a few months yet."
"Chosen a name for the little lad or missy?"
She glanced at Will, but he was lost in thought, his eyes far and clouded. His lips moved slightly, soundlessly. Was he thinking what she had been? Weighing whether it might be better to burn those yellowed pages with their secrets left unread?
"Well," she said, coloring, "there was never any question. If we have a son, we'll call him Jack."
"That'll make him right pleased, that will," Gibbs said.
"And for a daughter, naturally, Pearl."
Will came back to himself with a start. He clutched his father's book to his chest and took a deep, quaking breath. "Mister Gibbs, I am in your debt, sir."
"Not mine, boy. I'm but Jack's messenger in this."
"In Jack's debt, then." Will laughed, a trifle weakly. "Though, in truth, that is nothing new. We owe him more than we can ever repay."
"Ye saved him from the gallows, restored him his ship," Gibbs said. "He might argue over who's indebted to who. But I'll give him yer thanks."
"Please do," Will said, once more captivated by the book. "There's something else as well I wish him to have … I'll give it to you before you go, if you'd be so kind as to take it to him."
Elizabeth pressed Mister Gibbs to stay as their guest, but he demurred. It seemed that for all their fabulous wealth – Jack had divided Barbossa's treasure into equal shares among the crew of the Black Pearl, not even taking extra for himself – they still deemed themselves but simple sailors and pirates. She did not dare to ask how much of his fortune Mister Gibbs had already squandered on drink.
He did agree to stay for dinner, and regaled them with tales of the past two years. Anamaria, as it turned out, had put her share of the treasure into a ship of her own, and had sailed with Jack for a time. The powerful Pearl and the small, swift Kestrel had made a splendid team. But they had parted ways in Jack's usual style … on the receiving end of a smart farewell slap after some argument or indiscretion.
"I'll tell ye, though," Gibbs said at one point. "Ye'll be having no thanks from the crew, Miss Elizabeth, for that song ye taught him. We were all fair sick of it before the first week be out. Ye should see how well ye like it yerself after ye've spent a little time in a longboat, hearing it incessantly. Grates on ye, it does."
By now, according to Mister Gibbs, Jack was more than rich enough to retire and live out his life like a king on some lush island plantation.
"He won't, though," Elizabeth said. "Not Jack."
Her memories were of bonfires and rum and sprays of sand kicked up under wildly dancing feet. And singing, and laughing. And the heartfelt longing in his voice as he spoke of his ship. The Black Pearl was more than a vessel, more than wood and rope and canvas and tar. It was a dream made real, a soul's yearning given form.
"No, not our Jack," Gibbs agreed. "They say Jack Sparrow's blood is equal parts rum and seawater."
Later, after Mister Gibbs had departed with promises to bear their best and fondest wishes to Jack, Elizabeth sat at her dressing table combing out her hair with long, smooth strokes.
She could see Will in the glass. He sat behind her, at the foot of their bed. Turning the leather-bound volume over and over. His face was set and pensive, his eyes troubled. He had removed his boots and vest, and unfastened his shirt so that the sides hung away from his tanned and muscular chest, but had made no further progress than that.
He raised his head.
"Aren't you going to read it?"
"I … I don't know if I quite dare," he said.
Setting aside her comb, her tresses falling in long loose curls around the lacy shoulders of her nightgown, she went to him. As well as her gravid body would allow, she folded herself to kneel in front of him.
Her hands closed over his, still holding the book.
"You're afraid of what you might find?" she asked gently.
"Foolish, I know. But, Elizabeth, what if …?"
"What, Will?" She pried one of his hands from the book and kissed it. The back, the knuckles, the palm and the scar. Then she rested the curve of her cheek in it, and lifted her eyes to his. "Do you think you'll find some truth in those pages that will make me stop loving you?"
His eyes closed in a tight, pained expression.
"William Turner," she said in a sterner tone. "Look at me."
"Hush. Will, I told you how it was on that island, remember? With Jack? And that if he hadn't drunk himself senseless that night, who knows what might have happened. I gathered my wits the next morning and set that rum afire, every last bottle of it, and a good thing, too. I told you about it, and did it change your feelings for me?"
"No," he said, sounding both shocked and alarmed that she could even think so. "Never, Elizabeth! Though …"
"Though I would not have blamed you if you had fallen in love with Jack."
Now it was she who rocked back on her heels in shock and alarm. "Will!"
"He was much bolder than I was," Will admitted, shamefaced. "I had loved you since the moment I opened my eyes. You were like an angel hovering over me, Elizabeth. I had expected to drown, to die, and you saved me. How could I not love you? All those years … yet I never spoke. I never found the courage. I would have stood by and said nothing and watched you marry Commodore Norrington, even as my heart was torn to pieces inside me."
"I knew you cared for me, Will."
"But I did not speak, did not act," he said. "You needed, no, you deserved a man who could be bold. Who would know the opportune moment when it was in front of him."
"You are that man."
"Now. If not for Jack, I never would have been. And so, Elizabeth, if you had fallen in love with him, I would have died in my soul, but I would have understood."
"For heaven's sake!" she cried. "I love Jack as I might love a brother. If there was that one night of temptation, Will, it was the wicked and vile rum that made it so. What I am trying to tell you is that I love you." She plucked the book from his grasp and held it before his eyes. "And there is nothing in these pages that will make me feel otherwise."
"But there may be –"
"There may be anything, I know. Even if there is, you are not your father. You may bear his name, and you may be the very image of him, but his deeds are not yours. I trust in what Jack said, that your father was a good man. If he had to do terrible things, well, have not you and I also? It changes nothing, Will. Nothing."
He took the book from her and set it aside.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Whatever is in that diary or not, it does not matter now. Not tonight." He drew her upright, and gathered her into his arms. "I don't want it to matter tonight."
"Oh, Will," she sighed, leaning her head against his chest. Between them, the child fluttered and kicked.
They retired to their bed, where he held her and caressed her and they made a careful and tender love. Elizabeth marveled at the sweetness of it. He had been as unsure and inexperienced as she their first night together, yet they had somehow found their way to an effortless and joyful completion.
After, then and now and all the times between, she curled snugly into the warm comfort of his arm, her head pillowed to hear the steady drumming of his heart. She sank into a dark and soft sleep.
When she woke, Will was already up and destroying their bedroom.
Or so she thought, seeing every drawer pulled to its stop and every trunk opened with contents seemingly scattered from here to Panama. He muttered to himself as he burrowed through boxes of old clothing and other belongings.
"Will, what on earth?"
"It's here somewhere," he said. "Just to know. Just to be sure."
"Aha!" He emerged triumphantly, holding a browned and much-folded piece of paper. "This. When my father sent the gold coin, he sent a letter with it."
He gingerly unfolded it. The paper split along two of the creases. The ink had smeared and run, but was still mostly legible.
Elizabeth bent her head next to his as he tipped the letter toward the bright fall of sunlight at their window.
"You think that the diary might not be his?" she asked.
"This is his script," Will said. He opened the cover of the book. An inscription there read This is the journal of William Turner. Will tapped it, then pointed to the faded smudges of the letter. At the signature. They were the same.
"It is his, then," she said. "It must be."
"Not that I doubted Jack," Will said.
She looked at the letter, handling it with care so as not to further abuse the fragile paper. She read it aloud.
March the 26th, 1707
My dearest Will,
How I hope that this letter finds you well and happy and strong. I miss you and your mother dreadfully, and have for these many years. I hope that my Anne forgives me for not writing until now. And for it being so short a letter when finally I do.
I have enclosed something for you that I came across in my travels. Keep it well, son, and look after it. Keep it always and never sell it, nor give it away. This is of the utmost importance. I ask you to believe me.
I wish with all my heart that I might see you soon but I fear it is not to be. I am under a terrible burden that I cannot explain.
Your absent father, William Turner
"A terrible burden," Will
"Now we know."
"He sent it to me to keep it away from them. He must have known that by doing so, he would never be able to escape the curse."
She nodded. "But he must have thought it an acceptable price to pay to prevent Barbossa and the others from breaking it. He must have seen that they were evil men, who would only grow more evil."
"I do not want to read this alone, Elizabeth."
"Are you certain, Will? It is your father … perhaps it is private, and meant for your eyes alone."
"I want to keep nothing from you. Not now, not ever."
He opened the diary and paged to the first entry.
From the Diary of William Turner
August the 8th, 1701
I write this by candlelight as you sleep in the next room, young Will. Tomorrow is a momentous day for me and I would take this chance to begin a journal to chronicle my adventures. From what I have heard of shipboard life, my opportunities for quiet writing may be few and far between.
You may wonder as you grow older why it was that I chose to leave. Have we not money enough? Was I not happy with my wife, my home, my son?
Yes, we had money saved up. Some, at least. Enough to buy a new fishing boat, once mine had been foundered on the rocks and dashed to ruin. I was lucky to escape that disaster with my life. But with our debts steadily mounting, and the fishing being so poor of late, I came to another decision.
The money that we had saved could either buy that new boat and give me a means to go on fishing … or it could keep you and your mother in relative comfort for some years while I sought a new way to earn a living.
Your mother, as you must know, is a genteel and learned woman. T'was she who taught me to read and write and do sums, all skills not often found in a man of such humble beginnings as am I. She can take in a modest wage inscribing letters or teaching the French should need arise. The spare room might also be leased to a lodger for a few extra shillings. So it is that I feel confident that you and she shall not go hungry in my absence.
A stout man can earn good pay as a sailor, or so I am told. I am no stranger to the wind and the waves, though seldom have I ventured far from the sight of land. I am deft with my hands, adept at wood-working and cooperage as well as fishing, and those skills are prized aboard most ships.
And, too, there is the call of the open sea. Your mother, bless her, knows and understands this. I was never, she says, meant for a life entirely on dry land.
I have signed on with a ship called the Dolphin, a fine merchantman bound for the New World. It will carry a cargo of cloth and cut wood, and return laden with the exotic goods of those tropical seas. Sugar, fruit, spices, perhaps slaves, perhaps even silver and gold. There is much gold to be had in the New World, most of it being greedily taken by the Spanish.
The journey will be long. Months, likely even years. I undertake this diary so that when I return, or if I do not, you will have some record of my travels.
Be well, my son, and know that I am …
Your father, William Turner
August the 13th, 1701
At last, a moment to take up pen and ink.
We are now five days out from port, and I am coming to realize that my perceptions of a sailor's life had not been altogether accurate.
The living conditions are abominable, and promise only to get worse. Seen moored in a harbor, the Dolphin looks an immense and impressive ship with her tall masts and furled sails and the graceful wooden planks that curve to form her hull. It seems that there would be ample room for the crew to lodge in comfort.
That is far from the truth.
The Dolphin is large, yes, but most of her holds are taken up by cargo and supplies. We cannot count upon purchasing more provisions, and must therefore take with us enough to feed the entire crew for many months. Of premium importance is fresh water, casks of it by the ton.
Also there are spare sails, rope, planks of wood, tools, tar, paint, nails, pots and pans, gunpowder, cannon shot in several varieties, the cannons themselves and all the gear of their use, and the countless other items vital to the keeping of a ship. Add to this the tonnage of cargo and how quickly the Dolphin becomes full.
The crew, of which there are one hundred and seventy men, must crowd themselves in wherever they can. In the sleeping hold – which is shared also with pens of goats, pigs, and chickens that the officers might enjoy milk, fresh meat, and eggs – swing row upon row of canvas hammocks. These are always in use, for the men are divided into two watches and take their turns at scant four-hour stretches of sleep. One's hammock is therefore always warm, as the man before has just vacated it. Warm, and more often than not acrawl with verminous bedbugs.
August the 14th, 1701
I had been describing the conditions in which we common sailors must abide, and already it is sheerest misery. When one sleeps, one's hammock is in constant sway, and when the sea is rough one will bump into one's neighbors on either side.
The hold where we sleep is dark and cramped, and ripe with stench not even a week into the voyage. The men are told to relieve themselves in the head, at the forefront of the ship, or over the side. Many ignore this and choose to make use of the lower holds instead. Those laid low by seasickness are often unable even to reach the rail, and spew their stomachs onto the floor. Too, there is the smell of the animal pens, and in the galley stores, some of the foodstuffs have already begun to rot.
Many a time when I partook of a drink in some tavern by the docks, I would hear sailors-in-port bemoaning their rations. I took them to be whiners, for it was widely known that sailors were comparatively well-fed, and that shipboard life was, for all its discomforts, still preferable to a poor man's life on land.
Now, having sampled for myself the rations, I cannot fault those sailors for their complaints. True, the meals are generous in portions, but the quality and variety are sadly lacking.
I pray, Will, that you shall never know such meals as these. I think of your mother serving you a hearty supper, and wish I could be there with you.
The staple of our diet is hardtack, an unleavened bread tough as bricks and prone to infestation by weevils. Those men who eat these biscuits at table have the habit of rapping them smartly on the boards to cause the creatures to scurry out. Others take them to their hammocks, to gnaw them in the dark that they might not have to witness what it is that they consume.
Our meat is mainly dried and salted beef and pork. It must be soaked in water to leach out the salt, else it would be flatly inedible. Often it is served in a stew with onions and root vegetables, dried peas, and beans. We drink beer, and each man is afforded a daily measure of grog, a watered rum.
Meanwhile, the officers – on the Dolphin, these consist of the captain, a lieutenant, a first mate, an officer o' the watch, a quartermaster, a bo'sun, a carpenter, a navigator, and the ship's surgeon – fare relatively better in all ways. They bunk four to a room, with the captain having small but private quarters of his own. They often eat the same stew and hardtack, but supplemented with roast chicken, hard cheese, and hot tea.
August the 17th, 1701
We are well and truly out to sea now, with nothing on all sides but rolling water that spans to the horizon. Our lives are regulated not by the turning of the sun, but the tolling of the ship's bell.
What I should give for an uninterrupted night of sleep! To be rousted from one's hammock when it barely seems that one's eyes have closed is a hardship indeed.
I have learned that many of my companions are not here by choice. Some were pressed, seized from their homes and held bound and blindfold until the Dolphin was too far from shore to allow them to escape. Others are petty criminals and debtors who opted for a term of service as a sailor rather than prison.
And I, who am here by choice, have had cause to wonder at my decision. I had been beguiled, Will, by the love of the sea and the belief that all sailors would be good and honest men, bound by a common purpose.
I witnessed a man flogged today.
He had shirked his duties. Our waking hours are full to the very minute with the countless constant tasks that must be done to keep the Dolphin shipshape. There are always sails or clothing or ropes to be mended, wood to sand and paint, weapons to tend, rigging to adjust. But this man had simply given up. He sat with his back to the mainmast and his arms 'round his knees, and refused to get up.
It was a ghastly thing. After thrice mutely shaking his head when the lieutenant gave him orders, and once refusing Captain Hollister himself, this man was hauled bodily to his feet and tied so that his arms stretched above his head to a hook that had been suspended from a spar. Then the bo'sun's mate – a wretched bastard of a man, though I suppose I risk discipline myself for daring to write such a thing – took up the cat-o-nine-tails.
This is a terrible weapon, Will, terrible. It is knotted lengths of coarse rope sprouting from a leather-wrapped handle. I am told that upon some ships, the rope is braided with barbs of metal wire. Not so on the Dolphin, I was similarly told by an old salt whose grin was sickly and strained. On the Dolphin, he said, the officers deemed themselves merciful.
Merciful! The first stroke shredded the man's shirt from his back. The second laid open his skin in long scarlet welts. How he screamed, Will! I had never heard the like. By the time the lieutenant had counted off twenty lashes, the man merely hung by his wrists with his head drooped and his back a sheet of blood. We might have thought him dead if not for the ragged gasps that heaved his chest.
They cut him down and he reeled, nearly falling unconscious. To revive him – and this cruelest of all! – the bo'sun dashed a bucket of sea water over him. The pain of the salt in those wounds makes me flinch and shudder to think of it.
Still, they would not let him rest. He was ordered to take up his tasks and did so, his eyes as wide and wild as those of a frantic beast, but he worked with a fierce diligence. So did we all, after what we had witnessed.
August the 28th, 1701
Such a storm, Will! For ten days it tossed and rocked our ship. Lightning split the sky in stitches of fire, the thunder was a cannonade. The wind whipped the waves into such a frenzy that they smashed over our decks.
Two men were carried overboard and lost, and a third would have followed but for a rope that ensnared him. Alas for him, it wrapped 'round his neck and he strangled to death even as he was saved from drowning.
Ten days, and the living quarters are now unbearable from the stink of vomit. We are all weak and shaken from hunger, and the state of our clothing is shameful.
Each man has but a change or two of shirt and britches, you see, and some not even that. When our garments become filthy from sweat, we attempt to wash them, but fresh water is too precious for laundry and the salt of the sea water crusts in the cloth. When it dries – not that our clothing ever wholly dries, with the dampness in the air – the crusts of salt scrape and itch and sting our flesh. The clothing and scant personal effects of the dead men were auctioned off to others in the crew.
The officers dress in uniforms, with striking red waistcoats and buff-colored breeches, stockings and buckled shoes, belts and plumed hats. The common sailors wear whatever they like. Most of them choose to go barefoot for ease of climbing about, though this leads to them treading on unsanded splinters or errant nails.
One man got such a gangrene of the foot that the surgeon and carpenter together had him held down and sawed it off. Their efforts might be to no good; that man is feverish from the infection and now they are saying he is apt to die.
Though it is an affectation that bewilders and amuses my shipmates by turns, I, Will, persist in wearing good leather boots. The ones your mother gave me, the knee-high ones with the straps across the front. They have held up wondrous well thus far, protecting me from those splinters and nails. However, they do make my feet swelter, that I must admit.
August the 31st, 1701
Clear skies at last! The storm had largely blown itself out but the clouds had remained threatening. This morning they parted like a benediction, shining down rays of blessed golden sunlight.
The ship looks like a washerwoman's alley, all strung with drying clothes. Because the sea is also calm, the captain has struck the sails and allowed us to try fishing. We are powerfully weary of salt beef, and the promise of white and flaky fishmeat is more tempting even than gold.
Some few have gone swimming, but it was a surprise to me to learn how many of them lack this skill. I suppose it is sensible … why waste their time and strength in learning to swim? Any man who falls overboard from an ocean-going vessel such as this will only prolong his suffering if he seeks to battle the waves.
September the 1st, 1701
I am in high regard today, Will. After writing to you yesterday, I tried my hand at fishing and landed three. Two of middling size, but one the likes of which I had never seen, and which was enough to ensure us all a fish dinner.
September the 20th, 1701
We passed another ship today. Close enough to hail. A Dutchman, bound for home. How we envied them!
It has only been some ten weeks, but it seems so much longer. One's world shrinks until it is the ship, only the ship. We are beginning to see the signs of wear and tear on our bodies and our minds.
The diet leads our teeth to rattle in their sockets. Sores chafe us and are slow to heal. Three men have been injured in falls, one of them so severely that the surgeon's only recourse was to put him out of his pain.
Two more men have been flogged, one for stealing, and one for striking the lieutenant. This latter man could have, by the laws of the navy, been put to death for his offense. Had he not been nephew to the quartermaster, I do not doubt that another auction would have been held at the foot of the mainmast. We are all called out to witness any sort of punishment, and it is grim.
Not all of the officers have become tyrants, but it seems that as the days go on, and the blue water rolls endlessly past, they are more demanding and short-tempered than ever.
Two men were in fact shot dead. Their crime was one that I'm told is more common than many might think aboard these long and lonely journeys. They were caught together in an act of buggery, and summarily executed.
October the 15th, 1701
For six days now.
Not a breath of wind to so much as flap the sails. Not a drop of rain. We are short of water, too, and our lips grow parched and crack. The sun is merciless. By the calendar it is autumn, but it seems not so here.
I swear that steam rises from the deck, steam born of the humid sweat of our bodies. Now and then, someone will seek to rouse us with a song, a pipe, or a fiddle, but the melody soon falters and dies.
A man went mad from the heat. He began raving at people who were not there, calling for his mother and his sweetheart. We bound him to his hammock, yet somehow still he managed to sink his teeth into his wrists and so let out his blood and die.
I think of Anne, my lovely Anne. What I would give to see her face, her smile. To touch her and hold her.
October the 19th, 1701
A brisk and cool breeze out of the north has swept the deck clean of the malaise that had gripped us. The sails snap full and brisk, white bells overhead. Our flags flap gaily and every man goes about his duties with renewed vigor.
October the 27th, 1701
Land, a port, a town, at long last!
This is St. Augustine, Florida, currently under English control. The New World, Will, the Americas!
This is a frantic and bustling place, and to see so many strange faces after nearly three months of having only my fellow sailors to look upon is dizzying. The voices chatter at us in a variety of languages. Merchants wave goods and shout prices. Children swarm about us, offering to show us to a good tavern or brothel.
We fled ashore as if we had not set foot on land in a year. Each of us had some small amount of money to spend, out of the pay we shall be due at the end of the voyage. We bore straight for the taverns to slake and stuff ourselves, and to gamble – a practice forbidden aboard the Dolphin for the bad blood it can cause among the men. Some swiftly availed themselves of the company of local women.
What a place this is! A mingling of nationalities, a mingling of peoples of all colors. We took on six able-bodied sailors here and replenished our water casks, and when all too soon it was time to sail, we trudged back aboard with our pockets bulging with fruits and sweets and what little items we had purchased in the marketplace.
Port Royal, 1718
Will stopped reading and
leaned back, stretching his neck and rubbing his eyes. Elizabeth did the
Though William Turner had been possessed of a neat penmanship, an oceangoing vessel never did provide for the steadiest of surfaces. In places, the inked letters skidded and looped across the paper in drunkard's scrawls.
"Was it like that when you crossed?" she asked, frowning as she tried to remember her own impressions of the voyage from England.
In 1707, that had been, years later than the times William Turner was describing. Her father's duty and honor was to raise Port Royal from the rubble. It had once been the most notorious nest of pirates, nominally under English rule that could not be enforced until it was rebuilt after an earthquake had smote it to ruins in 1692.
She and her father had been appointed a luxurious cabin, a tad small perhaps but nicely furnished, and their meals had been served on covered silver dishes. She had never seen the galley, or the midshipmen's quarters, and whenever she had gone on deck, an officer had preceded her so that the sailors made an effort to straighten up and look presentable and mind their language.
Had belowdecks been as William Turner's diary described? Had the crew dined on hardtack and stew of salted beef, and slept in hammocks so close that they jostled their neighbors with each crest and trough of the waves?
"Mine was a working passage," Will said. "I had not the money for a cabin of my own, just a narrow berth off the galley. I earned my keep by being small and spry enough to fit into places where grown men could not reach. I fetched water, and gunpowder, and ran messages from one end of the ship to the other."
"And you only ten! Was it dark, and cramped, and terrible?"
He nodded. "I saw men flogged, too. A dozen lashes apiece for drunkenness."
"My poor Will." She caressed his head when he leaned it to her shoulder. "How glad I am that times have changed."
His silence somehow changed, and she had the clear certainty that he was refraining from speaking.
"Will? They have changed, haven't they?"
"I wouldn't know, Elizabeth."
"But you do. You hear the sailors' talk, I know that you do. Your swords have become the very thing among the officers. What have you heard?"
"That discipline is a vital component of the royal navy," he said, drawing slightly away from her and running his fingers through his disheveled hair. "And even our own Commodore Norrington has been known to order men lashed for their offenses."
She sat blinking, trying to imagine Norrington giving such an order. Punishing pirates for their crimes, yes, she knew he had done that. Her father the governor had denied her pleas to attend the hangings until she was fifteen, but she had heard of them. Had seen for herself the final fate of Barbossa's crew.
"He had his own men flogged?" she asked, incredulous. "Norrington?"
"He knows his duty, and follows it without fail," Will said.
Elizabeth supposed that was true. The Commodore had always seemed to her to be a gentle man of manners and polite humor. As a girl, she had thought him jesting when he declared that all pirates deserved 'a short drop and a sudden stop.' His behavior toward her had never been anything but kind.
Yet, as she thought of it, she had heard him speak sharply to his men now and again, and he certainly had not balked even at trying to have Jack hanged. He would have put Will to the rope, too, and never mind Elizabeth's pleas, had not the governor bid him otherwise. Duty first, duty above all else. That was James Norrington.
Will turned again to the diary. She read over his shoulder. The entries became more sporadic, sometimes weeks going by without so much as a note, then several days in a row covering many pages.
It went on in much the same vein. The food, the living conditions, the tyranny of the officers, the ports, the discipline, the weather. The dismayed realization that his meager earnings would never be the substantial sum he had expected. Half the crew being laid low with the bloody flux, a dozen men dead of it. Storms that snapped the yardarms, men mangled by flying ropes and wood.
William Turner wrote of how he had become apprentice to the ship's carpenter. He was awarded not much greater pay, but was treated to the addition of a slab of hard cheese with his breakfast and a mug of tinned cocoa or sometimes coffee with his supper.
He was called upon to assist in amputations, sawing through the shattered bones of men whose limbs had been crushed. He also helped to keep the ship's books, which included the daily muster and the cook's log.
Once, he saw a man named Barry, with whom he had forged a friendship, be struck by lightning atop the highest mast, saw Barry's smoldering body tumble away into the sea.
Another entry told of the crew fancying they saw mermaids leaping in the waves, and heard their sweet and mournful songs. There, too, was the time that nine men swore on their mother's names that they had seen the coils of a finned serpent thrashing off the starboard side, a serpent of gigantic proportions.
And there were skirmishes with pirates. These, Elizabeth and Will read most attentively. A crippled ship flying Dutch colors had turned out to be a trick, when all of a once a hoard of savage men erupted from hiding and attacked those unfortunates of the Dolphin, William Turner among them, who had gone to render aid.
Turner had escaped that battle with a single cut to the thigh, thanks to the captain's foresight in arming the boarding party. As it happened, that was the day that William Turner discovered he was that rarest of creatures – a true natural and untrained marksman. He had scarcely ever fired a pistol before, but found that his shots unerringly hit their targets.
Reading this seemed to please Will, and Elizabeth kissed him and knew that he was thinking of his own skill with a blade. It had come to him so easily, even with all of his diligence. More than one member of the garrison envied him deeply that skill.
On another occasion, the Dolphin was engaged with cannons by a 20-gun French vessel. It was a shaken William Turner who inscribed that day's entry, as he fought to accurately describe the din and smoky horror of the battle.
He wrote of how the ship's gunners stuffed their ears with wads of cotton, and it was still to not much avail because the boom of the cannons soon had them bleeding in trickles down the sides of their necks.
And how a single twelve-pound ball could punch through a hull or a rail, sending a deadly hail of splinters to shred sails and sailors alike. Or chain shot, two iron weights connected by a chain, spinning to shear through masts and bring down rigging. Or grapeshot, the deck-clearer.
The Dolphin was saved that day by the timely arrival of another English ship, the Westminster, a massive 74-gun man-o-war that sent the French fleeing for their lives. The Westminster had lent what help it could to the foundering Dolphin and its men, and shepherded them all to a safe port in St. Kitts. They had then been months ashore as the damage to the hull and masts was repaired.
"Listen to this," Will said in sudden excitement. "Here, as we languished in St. Kitts awaiting the day we would be able to take to the seas – how odd it is that while one is at sea, one yearns for land, yet no sooner has the salt spray dried from one's cheeks that one begins to hunger once more for the waves – we have heard fearful rumors of a new pirate scourge of the islands.
"It had been said that the age of piracy was passing, thanks to the presence and diligence of His Majesty's fleet, but perhaps that is wishful fancy on the part of the navy. This new ship is held to be painted black as night, with black sails. Her captain is said to be very young for the rank, but canny as a fox. These rumors do little to appease the wounded morale of my shipmates. Having twice escaped falling into pirate clutches, we all wonder if our luck would hold a third time."
"Canny as a fox," Elizabeth said. "A fox who'd near drowned in a rum barrel."
"They say he wasn't like that until after Barbossa marooned him," Will said. "Not completely."
"I find it hard to imagine Jack Sparrow any other way. Read on, Will."
From the Diary of William Turner
April the 19th, 1704
We are quit of St. Kitts, finally. Delays at the last minute. A good number of men have abandoned the Dolphin, a matter which causes the new captain much apoplexy. He has found it necessary to hire on nearly a dozen sailors, and some of them not at all what we would call able-bodied.
It is the tales and worries that have done this, I think. Before seeing it with our own eyes, many of us had not truly known how ferocious and terrifying a pirate attack can be.
I have heard such tales from old salts in the taverns of St. Kitts. They say that the goal of any pirate is to inspire such fear by his mere presence that his victim ship will surrender without a single shot fired. If this is done, the pirates are said to be lenient with the crew. They will loot, but will in general leave the ship and its men intact.
If, however, a ship chooses to resist, the pirates will show no mercy. They commit hideous atrocities upon captains who refuse to surrender. I was told of one defiant captain whose belly was slit that a section of his gut be drawn out through the hole, said section then nailed to the mast. This captain was then made to dance a jolly hornpipe about the mast while the pirates clapped and chanted and played tunes, and his gut unspooled and his feet slid in his own blood, until at last he was dead.
Other horrors, too … and I stop myself to recall that I had originally meant this journal to be a keepsake for my son. Do I wish to subject him to these gruesome tales? My poor, dear Will, who must be a fine tall lad by now. Yet I have resolved to myself that I must be honest, else this account has no meaning.
The purpose of these atrocities – men stuck chest-deep in barrels full of gunpowder and made to hold matches in their teeth, unlucky female passengers and officers' wives abused so severely that they died of it – was to inspire all other ships with a sense of terror, and thus encourage them to be quick to surrender.
This sense of terror now well and truly holds the Dolphin in its grasp. Our new captain, who had been lieutenant until Hollister was caught by grapeshot, will tolerate none of it. Captain Danvers is determined to prove himself and thus be promoted to the rank he now holds by default.
He has stressed his authority by ordering floggings for infractions so small as to have passed by unpunished under Hollister's tenure. Fully half the crew have tasted of the cat, most of these the new men. It was Danvers' belief that he must well and strongly prove to them that he is in command.
We will sail, he tells us, on toward Kingdon. It is, he says, by-God-and-thunder an English holding, and he will not shirk from our course no matter how many reports he hears of pirates in that area.
April the 26th, 1704
We are nearing Kingdon, and there is a grim surety among the crew that we shall not live to see it.
Even some of the other officers have pled with Captain Danvers, begging him to rethink his plan of action. He scoffs at them and reminds them that the Dolphin was completely refitted and resupplied in St. Kitts, and that any man who would turn tail at the merest whisper of danger should have stayed home with his mother.
He will lead us to doom, I fear. Because of my peculiar status, somewhere between crewman and officer, I hear all the talk of both. It is the widely-held belief that Danvers will never surrender.
John Parsons, my master in carpentry, is in a particular fright. He was near paralytic with it in the prior attacks, and is now working himself to a froth at the very notion of more pirates. He tells me that it is custom for pirates who seize a ship to seize also any men of skill.
"Be warned, William," he told me. "They take carpenters, even apprentices. Any man who knows one end of a hammer from the other is good enough for them."
April the 27th, 1704
I have seen the Black Pearl.
We came upon the scene of a battle, and the very sight left us slack-jawed. Our old friend the Winchester was ablaze. Flames scurried up her rigging like quick and able sailors, and her deck was awash in fire.
Near the dying Winchester was a ship the likes of which I had never seen. I had discounted the rumors but now saw them to be true. It was black, black as a ship carved from midnight. Only the stark white of its skull-and-crossbones stood out.
Longboats had set off from the Black Pearl to board the Winchester. Many man-to-man fights took place on the fire-swept deck. Pistols spat smoke, cutlasses clashed with swords. The screams of the injured and the yells of the pirates reached us across the waves.
And Captain Danvers stood still as stone, and wide-eyed as a child. His officers asked him if we would go to the aid of the Winchester, if we should attack the Black Pearl now, while her crew was scattered in the longboats.
I thought that he must surely have grasped at this chance for glory. What a prize it would have been, to take this renowned pirate ship, and to save the Winchester!
But Danvers gave the order instead to make speed away from the battle. Without so much as firing a single cannon. He claimed that it was to see us all to safety before the Winchester's powder magazine blew; such an explosion would tear us to pieces if we were too close.
Not a man aboard gave argument. We counted ourselves lucky to have come across the Black Pearl while she was engaged, and unable to give chase.
I took up a spyglass and scanned the decks, my curiosity leading me to wonder about this canny young captain. I saw that the pirates were typical of their ilk, dressed all in a hodgepodge of colors and patterns, some of them having gone to great lengths to make themselves look all the more vicious.
It has been my observation, Will, that the stories one hears of daring and heroic feats are more often legend than fact. Yet believe me when I tell you that I saw with my own eyes two men dueling on the Winchester's yardarm. They balanced upon it like spiders on a web as they went back and forth, blades flashing in the fire that crawled up the rigging toward them.
One of these combatants, I knew from our rescue before. He was an officer of the Winchester, a tall and cold-featured blond man who wielded a sword as though it was a part of his own arm. Yet he was evenly matched by his foe, a slim figure with wild black hair that flew about his tanned face in a welter of braids. With the spyglass, I could see the wink of gold as he grinned – grinned, Will, for he was clearly having the very time of his life.
This, I am certain, was the Black Pearl's captain. He seemed almost to dance on the yardarm, heedless of the occasional pistol-shot, his lips moving as he no doubt taunted his opponent.
And then it was over. In the blink of an eye. One moment they fought, the next this dark young man darted in and smashed the hilt of his sword into the blond officer's mouth. The Winchester's man teetered and fell. I followed his body with the spyglass and watched it strike the deck, imagined the snapping of his bones.
When I swung the glass high again, I was struck with a chill. The pirate captain still stood upon the yardarm, as carefree on that precarious perch as I might have been on a London cobblestone street.
And he was staring directly at me.
It gave me a jolt, Will, that it did. I knew almost at once that he was looking at the Dolphin, but it seemed that our eyes met and he was not marking the ship in his mind, but marking me. His eyes were wide and clear, unsquinting despite the sun. Uncommon eyes. Lined and dark.
Then he doffed his hat and waved it in a gallant bow, and leaped down and twisted his body and thrust his sword into the Winchester's heavy mainsail. This carried him down in a swift descent, the blade ripping a long split in the burning sailcloth as he went.
I saw him catch a rope and swing wide over the teeming deck, and then he dropped and was lost from my sight in the melee. By this time, the Dolphin had caught a brisk wind and the bo'sun smote me angrily on the back so that I nearly lost the spyglass overboard, and shouted at me to look alive and haul lines, damn-yer-eyes, haul lines.
We soon left the doomed Winchester and the victorious Black Pearl far behind, and every man aboard is thankful for our luck. Yet I think of the look in that young captain's eyes … marking our ship, marking me … and I cannot quite share their good spirits.
May the 14th, 1704
After spending a great deal of time in soul-searching, I have decided to take up this diary again. I nearly did not, Will, because I hoped that you might always remember your father as a good and honest man.
Not as a pirate.
I am now a crewman aboard the Black Pearl. I have been such for nigh three weeks now, under some duress because I chose to join them and sign their Articles rather than let them shoot me.
It was perhaps not the most honorable choice a man could ever make. I do not expect absolution or forgiveness. I hope only for your understanding, Will, for it was my only thought that if I should die, I would lose all chance at seeing you and your dear mother ever again.
So it was that I chose life, thinking that in life there was hope, and when a pistol was thrust into my face and I was asked if I was a carpenter, and would I care to join their crew, I said 'aye.' This I did with a searing sense of anger and betrayal that I cannot write of even now.
They took aboard the Black Pearl myself and Daniel O'Malley, the Irish lad who was apprentice to our surgeon, and Jim Burrock because Jim begged leave to join the pirate crew.
We were allowed to bring our belongings, and were further laden down with goods from the Dolphin. As I had been in the habit of keeping this diary among my meager store of carpentry tools, I brought it, though I do wonder if it might have been best to leave it behind.
Thus far, we have been well-treated. Daniel is distraught, and I sometimes fear he may try something foolish and get himself killed … he is a comely lad and has drawn some unwelcome looks from a few of this scurvy band. Jim is already quite at home among the crew, even claiming to know some of them from taverns in Tortuga.
May the 16th, 1704
I will write now of the taking of the Dolphin while it remains fresh in my mind. Not, I suspect, that the memory will ever leave me.
Our fears of the pirates proved very well-founded indeed. The pirate captain – Jack Sparrow is his name, the selfsame dark young man I had seen sparring so acrobatically with the Winchester's officer high on the yardarm – had seen enough of the Dolphin to remember it, and guessed at her most likely course.
They set upon us in the moonless late of the night, their black sails serving them well in this endeavor and their sweeps, long oars cutting the water, serving them even better. The officer o' the watch did not notice the large ship, did not notice the longboats rowing silently toward us.
Something of a celebration was in order at the time. Captain Danvers had ordered each man to be given a pint of rum. Not grog, which is watered, but the straight stuff. And the mood was merry, though also wary under Danvers' eye … no one had forgotten the rash of floggings that had marked his ascension to the captaincy. No man dared make quite too merry.
The pirates must have scaled the sides of the Dolphin, agile as monkeys and quiet as cats. Before any man of us knew what was about, they leapt among us with shattering crashes of pistol shots and fierce war-cries. One, a small and fiendishly laughing man, rolled a fuse-spitting ball packed with gunpowder into the stack of rum bottles, and the explosion sent flaming gouts spraying over the deck.
We were thrown into a confusion, Will. Many of my shipmates were befuddled by rum, and of those who were armed, no one thought to get off a shot until it was too late. This was perhaps just as well, as I have previously mentioned the ways of pirates with those who resist.
They brought us to bay smartly, we a cluster of frightened sailors as these savage monsters leaned close and leered and jeered with many a cloud of fetid stinking breath. They brandished knives and cutlasses in our faces.
One great brute of a man, black-skinned as a Moor, towered above the rest, and the lanterns struck bright spots of light from the silver studs he wore embedded in the skin around his eyes and over much of his exposed flesh. Another, thin and scrawny, wore a bandage tied slantwise around his head, and padding filled a freshly blinded eyesocket. A result, I suppose, of the fight with the Winchester.
When we were all disarmed and held helpless at swords' and pistol's point, the man leading this boarding party strode to the rail and fired a shot into the air. He was an older man than one usually meets at sea, gruff and coarse in appearance, with a greying beard. This, I would later learn, was Barbossa, the first mate of the Black Pearl.
Shortly thereafter, a final longboat arrived and the pirate captain came aboard with a grin and a swagger. Upon close inspection, I saw that he was indeed quite young, and knew that to have command of a ship at his age, he must be competent indeed.
Though the deck was steady and the sea calm, he strolled among us in a rolling and amiable stagger. Gold flashed in his smile, and cunning flashed in his dark eyes. He singled out Danvers and chided him, telling him that he would forever remember the day he had almost escaped Captain Jack Sparrow.
Then he turned to the men and, with as somber a look as his mischievous face seemed able to muster, asked in all seriousness whether Danvers was a fair and decent captain, whether he was kind or cruel to the men in his charge.
Feet shuffled and eyes averted as Danvers blustered. Then John Fallon spoke up, saying that Danvers did show a heavy hand with the cat o' nine tails, and as if his words had broken a dam, a torrent of like complaints poured forth. Some men shed their shirts to show still-healing welts. They averred that Danvers was both a bully and a coward, which to the mind of any sailing man is a despicable combination.
Jack Sparrow, with his brows lowered dangerously and the boozy goodwill entirely gone from his voice now, stated that any man so in love with the lash should have a taste of it himself. In a trice, the glowering Moor had stripped Danvers of his fine red coat and bound him to the mast. Barbossa walked among us with the cat swinging from his hand, inviting us in a sneering tone to step up, lads, step up and have some of our own back.
To our shock, Jim Burrock did so eagerly. When he had striped two strokes across Danvers' back – and Danvers shrieked like a banshee, then wept like a girl – he turned to Sparrow and Barbossa and asked to be taken on as a crewman.
Others shouted at him and called him a vile traitor, but Burrock only spat to show his disgust with us, and went to stand among the pirates.
When no one else would step forward to lash Danvers, Barbossa gave the Moor a nod and that black giant set about with such brutal efficiency that Danvers fainted three times and was revived by dashes of cold, salty water before Sparrow intervened, and said that enough was enough.
At this point, he regarded the rest of us. His pirates had been busy elsewhere on the ship, and men ran to and fro with casks, bolts of cloth, weapons, spices, food, the navigation instruments, and whatever else they could carry. Jack Sparrow ambled along the line of us and asked idly which of us was the ship's surgeon. Some of his men had been scuffed about in the last battle, he explained, and needed seeing-to. At this, the scrawny youth with the bandage nodded and rubbed fitfully at the spot where his eye had been.
It happened that our former surgeon had been one of those who jumped ship in St. Kitts, leaving poor young Daniel O'Malley to care for the rest of us. But too many men had already looked his way, and Sparrow stopped before him, a braid plaited with red and white beads swaying beside his cheek.
He was surprisingly mild in his questioning, his expression all the while as if he and young Daniel shared the most amusing of secrets. The boy was pitiably earnest as he told Sparrow that he was but an apprentice, an unschooled one at that, hardly a true man of medicine.
But that was good enough as far as Jack Sparrow minded. He took Daniel aside with the others.
And as he turned back, of a sudden and to my immense shock, my carpenter-master John Parsons cried out to me in a loud voice, "Beware, Will, beware, they will take you, too, they will take a carpenter!"
Now, Will, a dabbler at hammer and nails and whittling I was, but I would no more call myself a full carpenter than the poor O'Malley boy might have called himself the Surgeon Royal. And I was astounded that Parsons should blurt forth such a thing, until I saw the crafty glint in his eye and knew that he meant the pirates to take me, thereby sparing himself.
Yet I was too stunned to speak. Henry Farrington did, in honest puzzlement, saying that he had thought Parsons to be the carpenter. To this, Parsons stamped quickly upon his foot. But by then, the deed was done, and a playful little smile capered about the lips of Jack Sparrow as he looked from one of us to the other.
Of me, he asked my name. I replied truthfully – William Turner. And he asked my place on the ship.
Parsons shouted that I was the carpenter, curse them the stupid pirates, the carpenter, take him, take him away for pity's sake and leave the rest of us be.
I swear that I never saw Sparrow move. One instant he stood before me, as jovial and at his ease as a man going for a Sunday afternoon stroll. The next, his sword was leveled at Parsons with the point prodding the man's adam-apple, and his eyes had tightened into a narrow look of dislike.
His voice was deceptively soft. "I don't much care for liars on my ship, Mister Parsons," he said. "Thieves, aye, and murderers, and the odd rapist or two. We are pirates after all. But I have some standards, savvy? Now speak me honestly, or I'll have out your voicebox and see if it can do the talking for you."
He gave a little poke with the sword for emphasis, enough to draw a bead of blood. Parsons quailed, and admitted that yes, he was the carpenter and I only his apprentice.
"Was that so hard, mate?" Jack Sparrow asked, and was all smiles again. He glanced my way. "Now, gather your tools and kit and all, William Turner. You're coming with us."
My mouth opened, though God help me, Will, I had no notion as to what I might say. I had no desire to go with them, but neither did I have a desire to feel that sharp sword's tip tickling under my chin.
Parsons collapsed, bawling in relief, and this was his undoing. The sight of his grateful tears must filled the pirates with disgust and they set to kicking and pummeling him until his howls were in earnest pain.
"I can't stand a weaseling coward," Jack Sparrow confided to me. "A man who'd stab his own mates in the back would do the same to me, and we can't have that, can we?"
"I suppose not," I said, as evenly as I could.
And so it was that when the Black Pearl's longboats made their way back to the ominous shadow of the ship, they went riding low in the water loaded down with goods from the Dolphin, as well as myself, young O'Malley, and Burrock.
May the 18th, 1704
I must confess that I am finding life aboard the Black Pearl to be quite different form that on the Dolphin … and in many ways, far more pleasant.
Even my limited experience tells me that this is an uncommonly fine vessel. She carries no cargo, only men and guns and provisions, and what loot has been plundered from her victims. This makes for ample space, and as the crew is smaller, we all have much more elbow room.
Also, there are three watches as opposed to the Dolphin's two, which means that we enjoy longer hours of sleep. I have a hammock that is solely my own, that I need not share with another – and in that, Will, I am exceedingly glad.
The matter of discipline differs as well. There is no flogging, as I believe I may have heretofore mentioned, but what punishments there are tend to be swift and decisive. Jack Sparrow, for all his apparent good nature, runs a strict ship.
His men are required to keep their weapons cleaned and ready for use at all times. If they disagree among themselves, they are forbidden to fight aboard ship but expected to take swords and pistols ashore at the next landfall and settle their argument in a duel.
Gambling is permitted, but to be caught cheating at it is a dire thing … if such a man is not killed outright, he is often scarred about the face so that all others will be warned of his propensities with cards or dice. The men are allowed a generous ration of real rum each day, though should a man repeatedly be so drunk as to become ineffective in battle, he shall be denied this ration.
It is curious how readily they accept new men into the crew. Of course, it would be folly for me to attempt any sort of rebellion, given that I am surrounded at any given time by a dozen or more hardy pirates. But in their minds, that I have signed their Articles makes me one of them, bound by their laws and their Code.
So it is that I am not seen as a prisoner or hostage, but am treated as a full member of the crew. I have been assigned duties along with the rest of them, I dine with them. And I find that, while some of them are devils just this side of Hell, most are in their way as loyal and fair-minded of men as I have ever known.
They know that I keep this diary. That I am a man of letters is considered rather impressive, for many of these pirates read and write only enough to make their marks on the Articles as agreed. I have taken some ribbing for it, they call me 'clerk' and 'headmaster' and the like. But I take more ribbing for my boots, which I steadfastly refuse to give up.
These are the same ones that were upon my feet when I left home so many years ago. I've had to have them repaired in a port or three, but they have held up well despite it all.
So many years, indeed … it is nearly beyond belief, Will. You must be so grown now, so tall. You were but a tot of only almost four years when I left. Your mother always said that you resembled me, in the eyes and the features of the face.
I wonder if she was right, and that if I saw you, I would recognize a younger image of myself. Or has the time changed you, and given you more the look of your mother? I am sure she is seeing to your education. It was always our hope that you should be more than a humble fisherman.
May the 23rd, 1704
Took a quick little brig yesterday. More of a sloop, Jack says, and it was a shame that she had to be scuttled. The crew's own fault for resisting.
So they say, but the blood and smoke and stink of battle still chokes me. Their screams still ring in my ears.
She was called the Alejandra, and was bound for Santiago from Cartagena. One might have thought that a small ship like that would not have been carrying enough cargo to make a fight worth their lives, but once we had taken her, we saw differently.
The Alejandra had been carrying the news that a mine had been discovered up in the hills, and a chest of pure silver. Her captain had hoped that by running swift with no escort, he might be able to elude capture and bring this treasure safely to the governor in Santiago, to thence be taken to Spain.
It was with the utmost joy that Jack launched our attack. I was in his longboat without fully knowing how I had come to be there; he had coaxed me against all better judgment when I sooner would have stayed behind.
I asked him why it was that he, the captain, should risk himself in a boarding party. I recalled the Winchester, and he laughed when I told him that I had been the man with the spyglass.
"Barbossa led the attack on your ship, right enough," he said. "But I can't let him have all the fun, now, can I?"
He seems, oddly, to have taken a liking to me. And odder still, I find that I like him as well. He has a certain daring charm, this pirate, and he has not yet asked anything of his men that he is not willing to do himself. I have often found myself wondering that a man like Barbossa – older, rougher, and with a narrow look to him – should be willing to serve as first mate to a man like Jack.
Still and all, no one can deny that Jack's plans are often brilliant, and cleverly executed. He seems the sort of pirate that one does hear of in the tales. I had begun to think that those were only legend, as are the dashing highwaymen of England. Yet put Jack Sparrow atop a great black horse instead of a great black ship, give him a mask and a cape instead of a hat and coat, and he would be as equally at home.
As I was pressed into the boarding party, after the Black Pearl's guns had so holed the side of the Alejandra that she resembled a Swiss cheese, I was persuaded to arm myself to the teeth. I had four pistols stuck around my belt, a cutlass, and a knife. And, knowing that my hitherto unknown but uncanny marksmanship would be of more use to me than my indifferent skill with a blade, I took up two more pistols and thrust them through the straps on my boots.
This drew roaring laughter. It was a deadly-serious business we were embarked upon; the survivors on the listing deck of the Alejandra were peppering the water with shots all around us and if they managed to get their deck-guns working we would likely be blasted to pieces. But even as we rowed, a balding yellow-eyed man named Pintel called to the others to "take a look at old Bootstrap, here!"
Their mirth aside, I found those last two pistols to be the dividing line between my own life and death. And perhaps Jack Sparrow's as well. He was interrogating the Alejandra's captain, a difficult matter as Jack's command of Spanish was not much better than my own, and if the Spaniard spoke English he was hiding it well.
Jack had bade me stand nearby and 'keep a weather eye out,' which I did as the others savagely cut down the remaining crew and amused themselves by taking shots at the ones who floundered desperately in the water.
It was then that a man burst from hiding, some Spanish giant with tattoos covering his chest. How a man of that size – he rivaled Simbakka, our Moor – could have concealed himself on a ship so small remains a mystery to me.
He charged at Jack, a cutlass in each hand. The swinging curved blades made me think of farmers scything their fields. Jack whirled. He was startled by the shout, and startled moreso when he beheld the giant bearing down on him, but a cat could not have smarter reflexes than Jack Sparrow. He somersaulted over backwards and came up with his sword drawn.
By then, I had snatched the pistols from my bootstraps. I fired on the giant, praying that my powder was dry and that the gun would not misfire. It boomed obligingly in my hand and spat its deadly ball between the giant's eyes.
The shot killed him, but he had been running full-tilt down the sloped deck of the sinking ship, and his body became a loose tumble of heavy flesh and thick limbs. One madly waving cutlass would have bisected me had I not jumped back. As it was, it scored a line through my shirt and the skin of my belly.
While I had been thus engaged, the Spanish captain had seized Jack in a strong grip and they were fighting for possession of Jack's sword. I saw, which Jack did not, that the captain was also creeping a hand to the small of his back, where I spied the hilt of a dagger. He freed this, and was about to plunge it into Jack, when I fired my second shot.
The ball tore into the captain's side and knocked him off Jack, who was on his feet quicker than quick. He finished it with a jab to the Spaniard's heart.
"Nicely done, William Turner," he said to me.
We returned to the Black Pearl with our plunder. I will say this for the Spanish – they are fancy dressers, second perhaps only to the French. The pirates have adorned themselves well in their mismatched finery.
May the 29th, 1704
They have taken to calling me Bootstrap, or Bootstrap Bill.
It began with Pintel, who had witnessed my final actions aboard the Alejandra. Ragetti, he of the glass eye, apes him like a speaking shadow and took it up. Before two days had gone by, they were all doing it. All but Jack, except on occasions when he seemed particularly amused.
I am, I cannot deny, now a fully accepted member of the crew. Would that I could say the same for poor Daniel O'Malley, my former shipmate from the Dolphin. He did his best, did young Daniel, brought aboard as he was to see to the men of the Black Pearl that had been injured in the battle with the Winchester.
I, having assisted Mister Parsons the carpenter in a few amputations – sawing bones is more a job for carpenters than for surgeons, as it requires considerable strength especially should the amputation be taking place above the knee where the thigh bone is very thick – helped young Daniel to the best of my abilities. But some of the men were far beyond his meager skill.
Although it is small of me, I cannot help being glad that one of them was Burrock, who had so readily turned from the Dolphin. He had lost most of an arm near the shoulder, and though we got it off him and closed the stump, he had lost too much blood to survive.
All of this, Jack accepted with equanimity. Such losses are a known risk of the pirate trade.
They do look after their dead and maimed far better than the navies, I have found. A dead man's nearest known kin will receive any shares owed him at the time of his death, with the additional sum of a hundred guineas. A man who loses the use of a limb or an eye will be awarded fifty guineas, and be welcome to keep his place aboard the ship if he is willing and able to do so. It is very regular to find men missing a leg or an arm serving as a ship's cook.
But the battle with the Alejandra brought more injuries, one of them severe. This unfortunate, known as Bald Tom for reasons perhaps obvious, had been riddled with splinters and nails. One such nail had buried itself deep in him.
Young Daniel did his very best to dig it out but he had not the surgeon's knowledge or touch for such delicate work, and Bald Tom died three days later. That he would have died anyway had the nail not come out did not matter to Bald Tom's brother, who blamed Daniel for the death.
He beat the lad rather severely, and this added to the injuries the poor youth had sustained in trying vainly to fend off the attentions of two pirates whose tastes ran more toward slim young men than women, nearly did him in.
Jack was livid when he heard of the beating and other offenses. It was the first time I had seen him well and truly show his temper. Those who had done the violent buggery, he ordered keelhauled.
This is a terrible punishment, Will, in which a man is bound by ropes and submerged, then dragged along the underside of the ship – the keel – so that his body is scraped raw by the rough shells of the barnacles and if said man cannot hold his breath, he will drown.
The blood in the water, too, is a summons to sharks. They are without question the most dreadful of beasts. One of them caught the second keelhauled man and had his foot clean off before any of us knew what had happened.
As for the man who had killed poor Daniel, he dared to strike out at Jack, and Jack shot him and had his body thrown to the sharks. They had by then flocked around the ship eager as hens to a farm girl's seed-scattering hand.
And Daniel? Jack promised to relieve him of his duties when we reach Kingdon, and provide him with money enough to either seek passage home to Ireland, or begin a new life.
June the 1st, 1704
As I recall, the Dolphin had been bound for Kingdon. I asked the harbor master whether she had ever appeared, and he told me that he knew of no such ship having put into Kingdon this half-year past, even when I put silver into his hand.
Captain Danvers, I believe, must have lost his nerve. Or befallen some other misfortune.
Kingdon is large and clean. The streets and buildings are well-kept, and the people are of all classes and go their way without fear. But, for a hefty enough bribe, the blackest of pirates will be welcomed here so long as they keep to a relatively good behavior.
It is here that I again pause, Will, wondering what you might someday make of this diary.
Not only did I agree to become a pirate to save myself, but I have found that I've quite a knack for it. With some exceptions, I like my crewmates better than those of the Dolphin. The quarters are better, the food is better, the conditions are better, and once Jack portioned out the contents of that chest of Cartagena silver, I can say with assurance that the pay is vastly better.
But silver runs like water through the hands of these men. Even the best-intentioned pirate, thinking to save his money to someday retire to an island plantation or return to his homeland, succumbs to a sort of frenzy when he finally sets foot ashore.
We are here for six days, while minor repairs are done to the Black Pearl and her men celebrate their freedom after the long weeks at sea. Jack posted a rotation of watch to keep an eye on the ship – he cares for the Black Pearl with a devotion that I have not seen in any other captain or sailor of my acquaintance – and it is during my turn at the watch that I write this.
I can hear the noise of the city from here. Music and laughter, shouts, the occasional shot into the air or the ruckus of a fistfight. Women stroll the docks, calling out invitations – I want you and your mother to know, however, that I turn a blind eye to their charms … though the others mock me for this.
Jack even went so far as to ask me once, in all seriousness, if I were a eunuch. I replied that no, I was married. To which he snorted and said, "The one's as bad as the other, son."
June the 5th, 1704
Still in Kingdon, and it is truly amazing how a fortune can be reduced to pennies in so short a span of days.
I speak not of myself, for with but a few exceptional forays into the marketplace – I was in dire need of new clothing, and yielded to the temptation poised by a brace of brass-trimmed pistols of my very own – I have spent little of my shares of the Cartagena silver.
No, I speak of my shipmates. They are men of enormous appetite, and firm in their belief that they may as well enjoy their earnings while they can. It is a hard and sad fact that a pirate's life is often short. We have cruised past many a spit of land where the crow-picked corpses of buccaneers creak at the ends of their nooses.
The law is harsh. In some places, a pirate may be let off with a warning, but even then said warning is branded into his flesh. Jack showed me his pirate brand, which was situated on his arm just near a blue tattoo of a wingspread sparrow, his namesake.
But here in Kingdon, a pirate is generally treated as any other man. And a man with good silver in his pockets can live well and heartily. My shipmates have gorged themselves on suckling pigs, roast chickens, real bread that does not split the teeth as hardtack does, sweets from the abundant sugar cane, and whatever else they fancy.
Barbossa in particular has a weakness for apples. It is a strange habit, and a hard one to fulfill in the Caribbean. Bananas, mango, and papaya seem far more the available fruit. But he lucked into a case of them, of a ripe green variety, and has been eating them thrice a day. I wonder at the state of his bowels, but would never dream of asking. The first mate and I are not on the friendliest of terms. He seems to resent my friendship with Jack, and for my part I think he is a foul-tempered whoreson who will likely come to a bad end.
No fewer than six of the men have been caught trying to slyly smuggle women aboard. Jack, who is by the way a great favorite of the ladies – if I may use that term – of Kingdon, gave the men a light scolding and dispatched each woman with a kiss on the cheek, a pat on the bottom, a "sorry, luv," and a guinea tucked down her blouse.
Well, but for one of them … she evidently remembered Jack all too well from a previous visit, and most keenly recalled some promises he had pledged while in the throes of rum and lust. This chestnut-haired beauty upon seeing him went crimson and delivered Jack a furious slap that made his beaded plait fly out from his head like a flag.
This did not deter him long, I must add. I saw him later in the town, with one arm about a buxom curly-haired brunette and the other around a shy little grey-eyed blonde, and all of them seemed to be having the finest of times. Jack hailed me as his women giggled, and he bade me join them, but I once again politely declined.
We did not see him again until late the next morning, when he reeled aboard covered with love-bites that no doubt matched the contours of the brunette's lush red mouth.
Port Royal, 1718
Elizabeth covered her mouth
but it did no good; she burst out laughing all the same. "Oh, that is our
"None other," Will said, and he sounded most relieved that she laughed, because he had evidently been struggling to hold his back. It was that same soft merriment, but his shoulders shook from it.
"How … how many times did you see him slapped?" she asked when she could speak again.
"At least thrice." He paused. "You know, though … by the way my father's diary reads, it seems as if Jack was always …" Here, Will swayed in his seat and rolled his eyes and grinned in a drunken manner.
"It does," she agreed. "What of it?"
"I had the impression from Mister Gibbs that it was the three days marooned on the island that left Jack in that state."
"You also had the impression from Mister Gibbs that Jack escaped that island by roping sea turtles and riding his way to freedom, my darling," she said.
"True. Jack also, at least in my father's mind, seems more forthright than the man we know."
"That was before he learned some hard lessons of betrayal," she said. "It certainly seems as though Barbossa has always been of the same stripe."
Will flinched. "I am sorry for the language, Elizabeth."
"You didn't write it," she said, kissing him. "And there's not been anything so awful, has there? Just a 'bastard' and a 'whoreson,' after all."
She laughed again at his scandalized tone. "My poor, dear Will."
"And it wasn't only that," he said, riffling the pages with his callused thumb. "Some of the … events …"
"Well, yes," she said, a faint blush tinting her cheeks. "Not quite proper reading for a governor's daughter."
"I can put it away if you wish."
"Will Turner, don't you dare!"
They bent to the book again.
The following entries continued to describe the voyage of the Black Pearl through the various islands, while Jack gathered information and devised the most cunning plot that any of his men had ever heard of. He wanted nothing less than to ally with several other pirate captains, a dozen ships and more than a thousand hardened sailors, and attack the Spanish treasure fleet.
"The fleet?" Elizabeth murmured. "If we did not know for ourselves that Jack had survived, I'd say for certain he had gone in over his head."
"Here," Will said, pointing to a page. His laughter was gone now, and his tone had turned grim. "Here is where it all begins."
From the Diary of William Turner
November the15th, 1706
Our victory has not been what I should call an unqualified success.
Jack's plan for all its fellowship and grandeur was perhaps doomed in some ways to fail. That he kept them working as one for so long as he did is nothing short of a miracle. But in the end, pirates will be pirates, and I have seen that there are those among them whose hearts are black as any.
We did take the fleet. It was a coup unprecedented in pirate history, even in the annals of Black Bart or Henry Morgan. Never before have so many pirate ships sailed under one banner and one cause.
Our armada, as some of the lads took to calling it, came to a final number of eighty-seven. Imagine that if you can, Will … eighty-seven vessels, which ranged from small and quick sloops to monstrous 60-gunners. Each packed to the topsails with gold-hungry and blood-thirsty cutthroats. I did not ever hear the exact count, but a fair estimation would have three thousand of us.
Three thousand pirates. It beggars the mind. The brothels and taverns of Tortuga, and any of a hundred other towns must have been empty indeed.
Three thousand men, all of them armed with as much steel, shot, and black powder as they could carry. And all of them answering to their captains, all of whom answered to our own Jack.
He had promised every man an equal share of any taken treasure. The other pirate captains objected, but even they were too lured by the siren song of Spanish silver.
No pirate had ever before dared attack the entire treasure fleet head-on. From time to time, a ship or two might stray from the pack and be lost, or be taken by opportunists who lurked like sharks at the periphery. And no wonder, in truth, for the Spanish fleet we faced was made up of twenty merchantmen, guarded by eighteen majestic galleons. These latter bristled with cannons, swivel guns, and muskets.
The fleet left the mainland in late August, passed Hispaniola near the end of September, and was well out to sea bound for Spain on the 30th of October, when we made our move.
Jack's ruse was to have the Black Pearl seemingly in pitched battle with two other known pirate ships, the Lady Macbeth and the Sea Devil. Ingenious packets of powder had been rigged here and there about the decks, masts, and sails. These would detonate in a flash and a gout of smoke, to coincide with the blank-firing of empty cannons.
The Spaniards, seeing three of their greatest enemies thus engaged, were unable to resist the chance to sweep the sea clean all at once. Several of the galleons cut off from the fleet and made toward us. When they had come near, the signal was given and the guns of the three ships were turned in earnest on the galleons. At the same time, the other pirates swept in from all points of the compass, some under sail, some heaving at the oars of long dartlike Algerian ships.
The battle raged for three days and was the most horrific of all that I have seen. I hope that I shall never again witness its like.
Although they quickly realized themselves outnumbered and outgunned, the Spaniards rallied famously. Of our eighty-seven ships, fourteen were sent to the bottom and six others set afire. None escaped undamaged.
I do not know how many men all told died. I do know that a full score of the Black Pearl's men were either killed outright, or injured so severely that the kindest thing to be done for them was a pistol shot to the heart. I myself sustained a deep cut to the upper arm – a splinter fully the size of a sword, burst from the hull by an eighteen-pounder cannonball – and a burn to the hand when I became careless while wadding the cannon, and when we boarded the Guadalupe, I took a musket shot to the high upper and inner thigh. It came within two fingerwidths of ensuring that you would remain my only child, Will.
The Black Pearl withstood a heavy battering. Her mainmast was shattered, her sails and rigging destroyed, her hull pierced many times both above and below the waterline. All of this left us unable to pursue when the merchantmen of the treasure fleet broke away and fled.
Because of this, our crew and captain lost out on most of the glory. And though 'twas all Jack's devising, I am already hearing the tale told to put the captain of the Lady Macbeth as having orchestrated this brilliant assault.
Jack is rather disheartened by this. He prides himself much on being a captain, an accomplishment for a man so young. Too often, he has been made to remind others of his proper title, sometimes aggrievedly.
But, wheresoever the credit is put, the attack was triumphant. Only three galleons and two merchantmen escaped. Two galleons were sunk and one erupted in a fireball when her powder magazine went up. The others, though sorely damaged for the most part, were intact enough to loot.
That was when the trouble began, but I am called to my watch and must attend.
November the 16th, 1706
Lest I forget, I must note that none of my injuries were severe. We had obtained a new surgeon, a skilled man who had lost his position due to a weakness for drink. Though it is disconcerting to be tended by a man who reeks of strong whiskey, I must acknowledge that he knows his craft.
The cut on my arm, he stitched up. A salve took care of the burn to my hand. 'Twas only the musket-shot that was of true concern. I am ashamed to admit that I lost consciousness from the pain as the surgeon sought to dig out the ball, which had become lodged in bone near my groin. As he then cauterized the hole, I am all things considered glad to have been unconscious.
But I am recovering well. I was bedridden for seven days and only heard of the events following the battle at second-hand. I am now walking well, albeit with a slight limp, and have returned fully to my duties.
Pirates, as I said, will be pirates. No sooner had the fleet been taken than the arguments began. I think that more men killed each other over the treasure than the Spaniards had killed altogether. The captains sought to maintain order, but they were helpless against the frenzy of greed.
In the end, it became a riot. Ships scattered, each with as much plunder as her crew could carry. An enterprising few thought to vent their spleens by attacking the Black Pearl, as Jack was held muchly to task for the disastrous failure of his 'equal shares per man' idea.
We came away with a fraction of what might and should have been ours. And one unexpected item, which I feel will only bring further trouble upon us.
Her name is Delicia. Her father was commodore of the Guadalupe, and she is a dusky, comely lass of seventeen. Jack found her hiding in her cabin, and told me that as he pulled her from concealment, this little Spanish spitfire rocked him back on his heels with a roundhouse slap.
I pale to think of her fate had she fallen into the hands of another pirate. Even Barbossa would have been merciless with her. But not so, Jack Sparrow. He has no taste for such acts. Instead, he so charmed the girl – his face still reddened by her slap, no doubt – that she accepted his pledge of safe conduct and came aboard willingly as his hostage.
This nearly sparked a new riot, I must say. The men saw her as plunder rather than prisoner, and expected equal shares. Jack had to set his pistol to the center of one man's forehead to make certain he was understood. No harm is to befall Delicia, she is to remain untouched and unabused, and anyone thinking contrarily shall with all due haste answer to Jack.
He has promised her passage back to Hispaniola, where she has family. I have seen her, and can only hope that our crippled ship makes the voyage speedily. Her eyes alone, dark as plums and fringed in long lashes, would be enough to tempt a pious man into sin.
She has been primarily kept locked in Jack's cabin ever since, more for her own safety than to hold her captive. It is better for the crew as well. Bad enough to know she is aboard; the men mutter and grumble and cast narrow looks Jack's way. He has been sleeping in a hammock strung outside the cabin door and swears that he has not laid a finger on her … but even I, friend of his though I am, find that a trifle hard to believe.
It is obvious in her daily walks about the deck for air that she is quite enamoured of our daring captain, whose exploits aboard the Guadalupe are what I am coming to believe are elemental of Jack Sparrow. These walks concern me. Whenever she appears, the men neglect their duties to stare after her, and then the mutterings and grumblings take on new menace.
Too, she brought something aboard with her, something that resembled a small box or coffer wrapped in cloth. Barbossa, who holds forth the loudest and longest, believes that it contains jewels, which Jack must have either told her she could keep, or means to keep for himself.
Equal shares, he tells us again and again, pinning each man with a gaze like nails. Equal shares in all things, lads … and so many of them agree with him …
I wish that I could speak of this to Jack, but Barbossa keeps a hawk's eye on me.
November the 19th, 1706
We have rid ourselves of Delicia. Not a moment too soon, I daresay. The temper of the ship had become most dark and violent. I was to the point of fearing for Jack Sparrow's life. One grin too many when the girl was mentioned, and it may well have been the end of him.
But she was put ashore near Santo Domingo. Jack himself, and those of his most trusted men – among which I was pleased and surprised to find myself numbered – conveyed her in a longboat under cover of darkness. She was still some miles from the town, for as much as the Black Pearl needs repair, we dared not sail boldly into a Spanish port. Oh, no. Since word of the strike on the fleet has spread, every Spanish ship in these waters is running with all sails, hot to spill pirate blood.
The girl bade Jack a tearful farewell, kissed him soundly, and stood watching with her shawl around her lovely shoulders as we rowed out to the Black Pearl. I saw that she did not have with her the mysterious item.
Barbossa was aware of this, too. We had no sooner set foot on the deck than Barbossa confronted Jack. He threw Jack's words back at him. Equal shares, and perhaps they could see fit to exclude the girl from that, but it was only fair that Jack confess what it was she'd had in that box.
I saw with dismay that Barbossa seemed to have put his time to good use while we were away. The men stood with him, solid and resolute as a wall. Jack's jokes fell on deaf ears. At last, he told them that on the morrow, he would reveal the contents of the box. He said he had been saving it for a surprise.
November the 20th, 1706
This morning, the crew assembled. There was an ugly mood in the air. During the night, I had overheard many a low conversation, and by sunrise even most of those who had gone with us in the longboat were staunchly sided with Barbossa.
If Jack noticed, he paid it no mind. He only brought forth the object, still wrapped in its cloth, and presented it to us.
The girl had been carrying nothing less than the key to a fortune. A chest of pure gold coins hidden on an island known as Isla de Muerta.
The Island of Death. Many legends surrounded this treasure. It had belonged to an Aztec god-king, it had been seized by Cortez, it was under a curse that turned men into cannibals, it was blessed with good luck so that no one possessing a coin could ever be defeated in battle, and other such tales.
Coming as it did on the heels of our disappointing raid of the treasure fleet, the thought of so much gold inflamed the crew. They had but a few handfuls of silver each to their names – equal shares – and those had come high in a cost of blood and the lives of friends and shipmates.
Gold. Gold to ease our wounded pride. To make envious the other pirates who had so cheated us. And Jack swore that this, too, would be divided equally among us. He would lead us to the island, for he alone knew the secret of its location, and then we would have wealth beyond our wildest dreams.
November the 25th, 1706
Put into Tortuga this morning. The Black Pearl is in sorry shape. She will need many days' worth of carpentry and refitting. It hurts Jack more to see the tattered sails and holed hull than it would to take the damage upon himself.
The spirits of the men are high. Those who were going to die have done so, and those of us who were going to heal have likewise done so. We have some silver in our pockets, and pirates are more welcome than ever in Tortuga.
To hear it told now, there were five hundred pirate ships against a Spanish fleet of nearly twice that number. But the name of Jack Sparrow is only mentioned in passing. Some even profess astonishment to see the Black Pearl, for a tale had gone 'round that she had been sunk.
December the 8th, 1706
Repairs are complete. A plenty of hardy men sought to join our crew, but those who had survived thus far were not willing to welcome newcomers who might claim a share of the gold.
Jack and Barbossa are for once in agreement as to this. We will sail short-handed, at least until the treasure is ours.
I have, I think, had my fill of this life. My thoughts turn to England. To my dear wife Anne, and to you, Will. When I have my share of the gold – even if the stingiest estimation of its worth is true – it will be more than enough to keep us handsomely for the rest of our lives.
I am not alone in this. Some of the others have talked, more seriously than ever, of giving up the life. "Swallowing the anchor" is how the old salts put it. Most who do so find that they cannot give up the sea entirely, and will open an inn or tavern in some hospitable port. A man going inland, though this may be more legend than fact, is said to put an oar over his shoulder and travel until he finds the first person who asks him what that thing is that he carries. Only there and then will such men settle.
December the 12th, 1706
Storms kept us two days longer in port than anticipated, but at last we are underway. Spirits are very high indeed. All save Barbossa, who is more dour than ever.
December the 14th, 1706
I am worried for Jack. He takes the helm himself, all through the day and all through the night, in the hottest sun and the fiercest squalls. He has a maniac look about him, perhaps from lack of sleep, perhaps from excitement.
This excitement is not so much shared among the crew anymore. These are dangerous and unfamiliar waters, and no good sailor is happy not knowing where he is bound. The last two islands we have seen were uninhabited, desolate stretches of sand and trees.
Jack keeps with him at all times a compass that I have never seen before. I chanced a look at it, and my eyes must have deceived me for it did not seem to point in a northerly bearing. When Jack caught me at this, he snapped it shut and ticked a finger at me. He was drenched at the time, a veritable drowned rat with his hair pasted to his face and a river streaming from the corners of his hat whenever he happened to move his head. Everyone else had sought what shelter they could from the elements, but not Jack Sparrow.
There is talk among the crew that he uses some witchcraft to hold to this course. To this, Barbossa scoffs and says that it is something other than witchcraft, of that he is sure, and he means to find out what.
December the 21st, 1706
The worst has happened.
We are surely damned for this, damned to Hell.
I should have done something to stop them. I should have done more. Why did I let Jack convince me otherwise?
No … I know why I did. So did Jack. He knew precisely where to hit me, where I was weakest. And he was right. When all was said and done, he was right.
Barbossa has led a mutiny.
It came but a few hours after he finally persuaded Jack to tell us the secret of the hidden island. The compass, of course. The compass did not point north, but pointed instead to Isla de Muerta, where the chest of gold is believed to be kept, deep in a cavern grotto.
And, knowing this, Barbossa felt that Jack Sparrow was no longer needed, nor wanted, as captain of the Black Pearl.
He had nigh all the crew with him, as well. Despite his cruelty, or perhaps because of it, he won their loyalty away from Jack.
This morning, we sighted the island. Before we could begin preparations to go ashore, the mutiny was sprung. Barbossa had Jack surrounded by a shining hedge of cutlasses and knives in the wink of an eye.
I had known they intended something, but had I known it was this, I would have spoken, would have acted. Mutiny? Of all the crimes that pirates commit, this one is deemed by far the worst.
Those few of us not trusted enough to be let in on the plan were taken completely off guard. Most, seeing the way the tide was turning, hastily joined Barbossa.
I forced my way through to Jack. He hissed at me not to be a fool, William Turner, not to do anything stupid. But I set myself face to face with Barbossa and demanded what he meant to do.
He told me that it was quite simple – now that we knew where the island was, we could be rid of Jack. The Black Pearl, Barbossa claimed, was in need of a new captain. A strong, sure captain who kept his word to his men.
"When it comes to keeping your word, mate," Jack said, mildly enough for one ringed on all sides with steel, "you're not getting off to a very good start."
The Black Pearl came about, and retraced her course to a small island we had recently passed. It was not much of a thing, verdant but isolated, and Jack's eyes switched rapidly back and forth from it to Barbossa.
I saw then that they meant to maroon him. Of all the punishments a man could suffer, marooning was acknowledged the worst. To be left alone with only what food and water one could find, and what shelter from the elements one could make, was a slow and terrible fate.
They stripped Jack of most of his belongings, leaving him only his clothes and a belt of personal effects including his sword, and the now-useless compass. Barbossa laughed as he added this latter, telling Jack that even should he by some miracle get off the island, the compass would be of no use to him, because the Black Pearl and the treasure would be long gone 'ere he could do a thing about it.
And, finally, they gave him a pistol with a single shot. The purpose of this was the only kindness to be shown. If starvation or despair became too great, that single shot would bring an end that by then might well seem a blessing.
I cried out that this was wrong, and exhorted the crew to come to their senses. I was buffeted, jeered at. Koehler and Twiggs made leering remarks as to Bootstrap's unseemly fondness for the captain, was there something I wished to confess? Barbossa snarled and told me that if I was so eager to be by Jack's side, there was room for more than one on that island.
Jack then clutched me by the arm, as well as he was able with his hands bound. He told me again not to be a fool, and reminded me that I had my family to think of. This drew laughter from the men, but Jack was right.
"You have to go with them, William," he said. "Go along with them, and don't you worry about me. They're forgetting one very important thing."
"Oh, are we?" sneered Barbossa. "And what's that?"
He had a monkey on his shoulder, a monkey he had won in a Tortuga dice game, and it chattered and shrieked in what sounded like defiance. It is a mangy, nasty-smelling creature, that monkey. Its sharp little teeth looked capable of biting off a man's nose, or through his throat, with hardly an effort.
But Jack, undeterred, smiled his devilish smile and said, "I'm Captain Jack Sparrow!" as if that explained all. "You haven't seen the last of me, Barbossa."
"Oh, I think I have," Barbossa said, and gestured.
The Moor, Pintel, and Ragtti bundled Jack to the rail. They tossed his effects overboard.
Jack turned to survey the crew one last time. Or perhaps it was the Black Pearl he surveyed; his expression was almost like what I imagine mine to have been when I waved farewell to my family and wondered if I would ever see their dear and beloved faces again.
Then he plunged into the water. The last I saw of him, he was swimming toward the island, which was becoming a distant speck as the Black Pearl sailed away.
December the 22nd, 1706
Once more, we are at Isla de Muerta and making ready to go ashore. The Black Pearl will be left anchored but abandoned for the time being, as there is not a man among the crew willing to sit out the discovery of the chest filled with gold.
Barbossa took me aside last night. It had the appearance of a private conversation, but as it was on the quarterdeck, and within ready earshot of half a dozen men, I knew that anything said between us would be common knowledge very shortly.
I feared more for my life in those moments than I have at any other time. If Barbossa took it into his head to run be through, or shoot me on the spot, or throw me to the sharks, I knew that nothing and no one would stop him.
He explained to me, in great and seeming earnestness, how vital I and my skills were to the continued health and well-being of the Black Pearl and her crew. He would, he said, hate to lose me. And what good was it, really, in being stubborn over Jack? All I could do would be to share in his fate.
"Equal shares," I said, perhaps unwisely, for Barbossa's glare could have ignited gunpowder.
But he made himself chuckle then, and clapped me on the back, and told me that I would do fine so long as I remembered that the Black Pearl had a new captain now and there was no use crying over spilt milk.
Will, I did not want to agree with him. I wanted to spit in his face and dare him to do his worst. But the urge for self-preservation is fearfully strong. I knew that if I crossed Barbossa, I would not live to see another sundown. And he was right, it would do Jack no good.
So I agreed, and forced a smile onto my lips, and went about my duties as briskly as I could. All the while, I reminded myself that once the gold was in my pocket, I would desert the Black Pearl and make for England.
Barbossa knows, too, of this diary. But not, thank God, where it is customarily hidden. Only Jack knew that.
December the 23rd, 1706
A truly momentous day, and my heart should be gladdened by it. Yet I feel no pleasure in the gold. I feel only an emptiness, an ache.
Yes, we are rich now beyond the dreams of avarice. The caves were as we had been told, and atop a rocky rise sat a stone chest carved all about with markings and symbols. When Barbossa and the Moor, Simbakka, lifted the lid away, our torchlight fell on a heap of gold coins.
Each is of a size with its brothers, and all struck with the same emblem. It is a leering skull. Pirates, I have found, are a more superstitious lot even than most sailors, and that design should have stirred dread in us. Just as the skull-and-crossbones is designed to stir dread in our victims. But appearing as it did in the rich and mellow gleam of a reddish but solid gold, it was taken instead as a good omen.
So Barbossa claims. A good omen. Clearly, these coins are meant for the likes of us. He dug his hands deep into them, and raised cupped palms high, and let the wealth rain down in a musical shower.
And, seeing that no harm befell him, the crew crowded eagerly around, each man clutching at the gold. Even I, though I waited my turn until the feverish tide of men abated, reached into the stone chest and withdrew a coin.
Eight hundred and eighty-two of them in all.
A fortune in gold, Will. The future of our family. As I sit and write this, I tell myself that I should be overcome with thoughts and joys of going home. Yet that, too, is lost in the same emptiness. What good a fortune, when it comes at the price of a man's conscience?
I believe I am the only one to feel thusly. Barbossa of a certain has no qualms nor regrets for his conduct. He, in fact, opened a bottle of French wine he had kept saved for just such an occasion, and poured it 'round, and offered up sarcastic toast to our absent and erstwhile captain.
In his jolly mood, he even went so far as to christen the monkey, his loathsome familiar, by the name of Jack. This met with enormous laughter from many of the men, and they drank deeply. I, so as not to set myself apart, dutifully did the same.
But the wine was weak and sour in my mouth.
December the 28th, 1706
Steady rains and sluggish winds have made our journey slow and dismal. A miasma has settled over the Black Pearl. The men sit glum and humorless at their stations. From time to time, I see them take out their gold coins and study them, as if contemplating all the rum and women they shall have when next we come to a port, but the usual anticipatory hunger is curiously absent.
I share their disinterest. It is a dark weight on our souls, the knowledge that we are mutineers.
Barbossa has decreed that we will say Jack Sparrow is dead. As for the exact means, he rejected numerous suggestions from the crew. Drowned? Not Jack … unlike many a sailor, Jack Sparrow swam like a fish. Sickness? Why, then, had it not taken the rest of us? No, Barbossa settled on having Jack's fate be to have been shot by a jealous husband. That, I fear, is too possible not to be believed.
Even he, though, even Barbossa, is lackluster. I witnessed him yesterday pluck the last apple from his prized store, and turn it in his hand as if 'twere a jewel of improbable size and splendor. Then he bit into it, and got a queer look, and cast it from him into the sea. It must have been wormy, but that has never stopped Barbossa before. I have seen him eat, and with relish, apples so brown and shriveled that they more resembled figs.
We must have passed the island where we marooned Jack. I could see nothing through the slashing, sheeting rain. At least he will have fresh water, if he has not already so wearied and despaired of his plight that he has taken the pistol's way out.
January the 2nd, 1707
The worst of the rain and wind are done for now, though the clouds yet hang heavy in the sky. We have seen neither the sun nor moon since the island. It is as though a dismal fog follows the ship wherever she goes.
January the 3rd, 1707
Sailed into the little French port of Toussaint today. Though it is said to be no haven for pirates, both the harbormaster and the governor are corrupt, and a few well-placed gold coins won the Black Pearl space in the harbor, and made her crew welcome in town.
It is here that I should part company with Barbossa and the others. I have my share of the wealth, and could wait until a likely ship arrives upon which I could book passage home.
Yet I find that the desire which only weeks ago burned so brightly in my heart has turned to ashes. I conjure up my dear wife's visage in my mind … my son's bright eyes and smile … and I feel … nothing. As if Will and Anne are strangers to me now.
It is as if the best part of me is marooned somewhere beyond all hope and caring.
Once, when coming to a new port such as this, I would go lively about the marketplace, adding to a chest of trinkets and gifts for my family. I imagined their exclamations of delight as they uncovered each new item.
But they are only things. Meaningless things in a sea chest.
January the 4th, 1707
Despite Barbossa's bribes, we were very nearly turned out of Toussaint last night. Six of the men got into a brawl at a tavern, claiming that the rum they were served was watered, and the food bland and overcooked. Four others were violently ejected from a brothel for laying rough hands upon the women … they were, they protested, only trying to encourage the lazy strumpets to do their jobs properly.
Barbossa himself, who had brought three girls – two of them, I could not help thinking, bore an uncanny resemblance to the Spanish girl, Delicia – back to properly celebrate his moving into Jack's cabin, was in a black mood as he dismissed them this morning. The girls whispered to each other as they descended the gangway, and though my command of Spanish remains sketchy at best, it seemed to me that they giggled over the failure of the captain's cannon to fire.
More coins were handed around the town to smooth the matters over. We leave with the evening tide.
January the 6th, 1707
Will, I … I cannot write of this yet.
January the 9th, 1707
We are dead men.
January the 11th, 1707
A terrible thing has happened. Perhaps not undeserved. Perhaps rightly so. God's punishment for what we have done. No men on earth will suffer the torments that we shall.
Will, my dear son … Will, I loved you once. I love you still, and your mother, inasmuch as I am able. The best of my emotions have been wrung from me like water from a rag.
There was a curse on the treasure. We know it now. We are living it.
Six nights ago, on the evening of the 5th of January, the clouds finally parted enough to let moonlight through. And what the moon's white eye revealed was so horrible, Will … so horrible!
I was below at the time, in my hammock, my stomach churning with hunger for I had not been able to eat much of my supper. I was not alone – though we had a roast of beef seared crisp on the outside and tender-pink within, though we had real bread bought in Toussaint rather than bricklike hardtack, none of us had mustered much of an appetite. No matter how tantalizing the food looked, its aroma was dull and its taste and texture unappealing.
And then, as the portholes brightened, a terrific shriek came from on deck.
We tumbled from our hammocks, grabbing for weapons in the dark, and charged up. The men in the lead came to an abrupt halt, blurting obscenities and other such shocked outbursts, forcing those of us in the rear to crane to see.
Would that we had not. Would that our eyes had been shut blind.
The deck was bathed in pale blue-white light from the moon, and in its strong glow the ghastly shapes were clear. Skeletal figures ran madly about, tearing at each other, recoiling, screaming.
They wore the clothes of our crewmates, of the night-duty watch, and as the first hammer-blow of horror subsided, a second and more insidious one, like a slim dagger to the back, sank in.
These were our crewmates. They wailed and gibbered and howled with human voices. Familiar voices.
Barbossa's cabin door banged open and he stormed on deck. We saw him clearly, those of us jammed in the hatch. As he passed from the shadow overhang of the quarterdeck, and came into the moonlight, the flesh was stripped from his bones. It was as a dead thing he advanced, patches of skin and hair clinging to his skull, his eyes round orbs glaring from their sockets.
The ship swung about – her helm was unmanned and her sails flapping wildly – and a shaft of moonlight pierced the hatchway where we all stood thunderstruck. Wherever that white light touched, it revealed rotting cloth and bare bones. A tumult of outcries and shoves exploded among us.
I saw my arm go out, to what end I do not know, and enter the moonlight. At once it was not my arm at all, but a pair of ivory sticks loosely held in sinew and spongy meat, and at the end of it a clittering bundle of twigs like the legs of some fantastic albino spider.
When I snatched it back to myself, and cradled it, I felt and saw only solid flesh. But when I turned my arm over and pressed my fingers to my wrist, I could not find the throbbing of my pulse. Nor could I find it in my neck, and it occurred to me that my skin felt waxy, clammy, and cool.
I was a dead man, as were the rest of them.
Panic reigned until a cloud slid over the moon, and all seemed restored to their normal selves. Barbossa shouted for order, and we crowded onto the deck. It was uneasy, no man wishing to touch his neighbor. A few had broken down completely, sobbing like women and wringing their hands.
Then, as we stood there waiting for Barbossa to speak – what in the world he could have said, I have no idea – the cloud moved on and we were one and all doused in moonlight. A shipload of ghouls, specters, skeletons, undead. Even the repugnant little monkey, which had bounded from Barbossa's cabin and taken its usual perch on his shoulder, was revealed as a patchy-furred revenant.
A madness swept us then, Will. A sheer, unadulterated madness. Men raced every which way, clawing at themselves, screeching in utter mindlessness.
I remember reeling to the mast and holding onto it, feeling the wood scrape not against skin but ribs, and when I put my forehead against it, I heard not a muffled, padded thud but the clack of bone on wood.
I could not close my eyes. My eyelids were gone, leaving the eyes beneath wide and naked and defenseless. I could only turn my face to the mast, and even that was not enough to prevent me seeing.
The men were crazed. Some tried to kill each other, some tried to kill themselves. I saw pistols set to temples, triggers pulled. I saw knives hack uselessly at wrists, for there were no veins to cut. I saw Scarus gripping Ketchum by the neck-bones, but how could someone be throttled who did not breathe?
Whatever they tried, they could not die.
All that long and hellish night, the crew of the Black Pearl sought their complete deaths. And all that long and hellish night, we failed. Yes, we, Will. Even I, seeing what I had become, yearned to end it.
When the moon sank, the bony apparitions were replaced once more by men who looked in all ways alive, whole, hale, and hearty. But we soon found that we still could not be hurt. The stab of a dagger drew no blood and caused only a brief pain that soon faded. Pistol shots went harmlessly through our bodies.
Dawn arose to a gruesome scene, the decks of the Black Pearl littered with men whose clothing was torn and burnt from gunpowder, men who had knives jammed into their backs, men dangling from nooses. A few had jumped overboard, only to find that they did not drown, and could walk on the sea bed nearly with the ease of a man strolling along a sandy beach. One enterprising fellow, Nippalkin, dug into the surgeon's kit and swallowed poison, but even that might have been grog for all the harm it showed him.
We could no longer deny that we were under a most fearful curse. No wonder that our hungers went unassuaged. The dead had no need of nourishment, could not be made drunk, could not sate their lusts. The food we consume is tasted with dead tongues, dead mouths. We might as well eat wet paper.
January the 12th, 1707
I could not finish last night my recounting of the events of our discovery. I was too in despair. I do not expect now that I will ever return to England, ever see Anne and Will again.
What would I do, a living dead man? Where would I go? I could not bear to see my dear wife behold me by moonlight. I would never wish to pollute her with my cold touch.
There is nothing for me now but to remain with the Black Pearl. We are all of us bound more closely than ever by this awful curse. Until the Judgment Day, or until we can find some means to end it.
Barbossa tells us to make the best of things. We are immortal now, he says. We cannot be hurt, cannot be killed. Has there ever been a more fearsome band of pirates? He bids us imagine what we can do, the battles we can win when there is no chance of losing men, or having good men lose their limbs.
And he tells us that all pirates rely on their ability to cow and terrorize their victims into surrender … how much more would they be cowed and terrorized if we came upon them in the eerie light of a full white moon?
Slowly, as these days have gone by with the Black Pearl moored in a concealed inlet of an uninhabited dot of land, he has begun to sway most of the others to his way of thinking. They find that there is something to be said for an inability to be injured or killed. They dream of the plunder we could take, and fancy that enough gold, silver, and jewels will more than make up for what we have lost.
I am not so sure of that. Perhaps initially, yes … but in time I would think that such wealth would bring no delight. What is the good of it, when the pleasures of the senses are leaden and dead?
January the 29th, 1707
Kingdon again, though with care. Should the sky pose clear as sunset approaches, all the men make haste to return to the ship before moonrise. Barbossa does not want word to get out.
He has added more guns to the Black Pearl. It is a curious thing that the ship herself seems to have taken on some aspects of our curse. Her sails by moonlight turn tattered and ragged, yet still somehow catch the wind. The planking is slick with a black-green decay that never quite erodes the wood. All in all, she seems some derelict dredged up from the sea bottom.
How Jack Sparrow would hate to see her in this shameful state. Yet now, I cannot help but consider Jack the lucky one. Had Barbossa chosen to maroon him after, he might have found himself stuck on that island without even the release of the single pistol shot to promise him peace. He must be dead now, and I envy him.
We did him a great wrong. I am sure of so little these days, but I am sure of that.
February the 15th, 1707
As I expected, already the flush of immortality is wearing thin. The Black Pearl has taken six ships in the past two weeks, and though these were accomplished with hardly a loss or risk to us, what is the point of looting ships' stores of their rum and spice?
Some of the men have wondered if perhaps the curse is carried in the coins themselves. That, perhaps, once the gold were no longer with us, we might be returned to our former condition. They spend freely, in a desperate desire to be rid of the coins.
Might they be right?
If each stolen coin were spent, would that lift the curse?
Or does it bring the same curse down upon anyone who handles the forbidden gold? Have we left a trail of undead merchants, tavern-keepers, and whores in our wake?
February the 19th, 1707
He is the very Devil himself!
What was the good of it, except to cause harm? Black-hearted bastard, oh, if I could kill him I would, and damn the consequences.
We seized a Frenchman today, a tiny nothing of a barque, bound for Martinique. The captain had his mother, sister, and wife aboard. Too, there was a female member of the crew, and a whore that one man had smuggled into the hold.
There was no need of it, no need, blast his eyes!
Barbossa led the men on a brutal rampage. All but four of the male sailors of the Belle were butchered. The captain and the three others were beaten severely and taken ashore, where they were buried to the chin in the sand of a sheltered cove.
The atrocities committed upon those women …
And for what? The men could derive no physical satisfaction from the act, could not attain completion, and yet they went –
Port Royal, 1718
Will shut the book. He had
gone pallid beneath his tan. "No more."
"I'm all right," Elizabeth assured him, covering his hands with her own. "We're near the end."
"It is too terrible."
"I know. You cannot protect me from all the world, my darling Will."
"But they …" He shuddered.
She did, too, knowing what he must be thinking. When she had been Barbossa's prisoner, some of his unholy lust had been directed at her. It was plain that, had he wished, he could have forced her into his bed. He had threatened to make her dine naked among the crew, and she was sure that if she had been made to do so, they would have had their sport with her. Not because it sated their desires, no, but to shatter her spirit.
"Read on, Will," she said quietly. "Remember, there can be nothing in this book so horrible as to change anything between us."
From the Diary of William Turner
– and yet and yet they went
one after another in vicious assaults, until the women could no longer
even find the breath to scream. Until they only whimpered, cries better
suited to dying animals than to human beings.
The captain, they made to watch. When he shut his eyes, they slit off his eyelids, and I felt a sudden kinship with him, recalling my own futile efforts to close my eyes to the horrors on the deck of the Black Pearl that first moonlit night.
Two of the women died of it. The female sailor managed – oh, brave woman! – to take her own life by biting out the glass eye in Ragetti's head, cracking it between her teeth, and swallowing the jagged pieces so that her throat was cut from within.
The others were left bleeding on the beach as we returned to our ship.
I took no part in this, beyond my usual efforts in the shipboard battle. Yet neither did I act to stop it. I tell myself that it would have been futile, but my inaction disgusts me.
March the 23rd, 1707
The curse … it is not carried in the coins themselves. It cannot be passed like a sickness from one to the other. Those with whom we've had trade are fine and well, unhampered by the ills of the soul which plague us.
Nor do I believe that being rid of the coins will help us. The curse is in us, in our very bones and blood – we do bleed, by the way, though rarely more than a trickle and the flesh always closes up in a very short time. The ship, too, though now always looking somewhat worn, slowly mends up any damage done her.
This is our damnation.
And we deserve it.
Far from repenting their evil ways, the men following Barbossa have only grown all the more ruthless. Where once they tortured only when necessary – to learn the location of valuables aboard a burning and sinking ship, say – they now take a grim joy in it.
We are a ship of the damned. The Black Pearl, one our home, has become our hell on earth.
March the 30th, 1707
I am sending one of the coins away. To you, Will. As far from here as I can.
The circle must remain unbroken. The curse cannot be undone until all the coins are returned to the selfsame stone chest. That is the power, that is the answer.
This I learned from a tribal shaman I met in Cartagena. He recognized the coin, which I had taken to wearing on a chain around my neck as a reminder of my wretchedness.
He shied from me at first, and forked me the sign of the Evil Eye. I persuaded him I meant no harm and he told me that the curse would fall on all those who removed a piece of the gold from the chest. It could not be lifted until each offender had returned that which he had stolen, and 'paid the price.'
I am therefore resolved to see to it that the curse is never undone.
It seems an odd choice – if I am so miserable, and would so gladly welcome true death, why then should I not endeavor to the best of my abilities to be rid of this hideous burden? Why condemn myself to it?
Because, in condemning myself, I condemn the others.
Though many of them still revel in their immortality, and the fright their skeletal visages impose, most have grown desperate for a taste of good food, a drink of potent rum, and lustful release. They have realized that their wealth means nothing when it cannot be enjoyed. They truly consider themselves the most tormented creatures of all.
And I would keep it so.
Let them be forever damned, forever suffering in the emptiness of this half-life. I will happily endure it myself for a thousand years if only to see Barbossa's agony each time he bites into an apple that is no better than a clod of dirt.
They deserve this, and perhaps I do, too. For turning against our rightful captain. Them for what they did to Jack Sparrow, and me for failing to stop them. I knew it was wrong. I knew, and I hate myself more for my acquiescence with every passing day.
So, even should my shipmates learn of the means to break the curse, even should they regain every other coin from that chest, let there be one that is forever beyond their reach. Care for it well, my son.
Port Royal, 1718
They had come to the end,
if not of the book, of the written pages. Will ran a fingertip lightly
over the final sentence.
Elizabeth put her arms around him. She held him in silence, letting her love flow into him like a clean light. She glanced at the letter again, that old and oft-folded thing.
"What did you make of it
when you received this?" she asked.
Will sighed. "I was angry at first. He had been gone so long, and I did not even know him except through my mother's tales. She kept saying that he would return any day now. She waited. She pined for him. The money he had left us was soon gone, and we had to make do on what she could earn as a tutor. I took odd jobs, anyone who would hire a boy my age. Years went by and still she waited, and still there was nothing. Then, this. A gold coin he importuned us not to spend, and no word of his coming home."
"Your poor mother."
"It took the heart from her," Will said. "She lost hope, grew weak and ill, and died within the month. Then I was alone, turned out of the house with hardly anything but the clothes on my back and a few possessions. And a gold coin on a neck-chain."
"So you decided to try and find your father," Elizabeth said. "Working passage on a ship to the Caribbean."
He nodded. "And then the attack."
"The gold called to them. That's what they told me," she said. "They could sense it, were drawn to it like moths to a flame."
"I was small enough to hide when they boarded the ship," Will said. "I heard them shouting, demanding answers of the captain and officers. I never dreamed that they were looking for my coin, for me. Then a fire started, and there was a great explosion. Next I knew, I was gazing up at an angel."
"And it took them nine years more to find it again," she said.
"My father wanted them to suffer."
"They did. I saw Barbossa. I spoke to him. The look, the longing look when he wanted me to eat that apple."
"But my father still had to die. Barbossa murdered him." Will's face darkened. "Bound him to a cannon and threw him into the deep."
"Will …" she said, slow realization breaking over her like a wave. "Your father couldn't die."
His brows knit quizzically, then the horror of it dawned on him. "He couldn't die," he said. "That's right. He did not breathe, so he could not have drowned. Oh, Elizabeth … Barbossa sent him to a waking, watery-black hell! For so many years! How it must have come as a relief when the curse finally did end, and snuff the life from him! But that would mean that I ... that I killed him. His own son."
"Unless," she said carefully, "unless, Will, unless he got free."
He looked at her, utterly without comprehension.
Elizabeth hated to ignite false hope in him, but the idea captivated her mind with a simple, singular perfection. "He would have been alive, as alive as they could be. The water couldn't finish him, nor could the sharks, or anything else. Given enough time, Will, he might have worked his way free from that cannon. We know that they could walk along the sea floor. And that they did not need to eat or drink to survive. It might have taken an ungodly long while, but mightn't he have finally come ashore somewhere?"
Will looked as though the blood had drained from him.
"The curse, though …" he said in a faint whispering voice.
"Would have been on him, yes," she said, the thoughts still spinning rapidly through her mind. "Until you broke it. You paid his blood debt, Will. You might not have killed him. You might have set him free."
"This is madness!" he cried, leaping up and clutching his head as if he feared it might burst. "Could he be alive, Elizabeth? Could he?"
The Black Pearl, March 30th, 1707
The sunlight was the color
of lemons, diffused by the humidity that hung in the still, warm air of
the early tropical spring. The ocean, nearly as calm as a mirror, was a
serene and faded blue. No clouds dotted the sky, but all of them knew that
there would be rain before dusk.
William Turner emerged onto the deck, having stashed his diary with its latest entry in its secure hiding place. His hand kept stealing to his chest, exploring the unaccustomed absence where the coin on its chain had been.
That coin was gone now, on its way to England. He felt as if a weight had been lifted from him.
With not so much as a breath of wind for the sails, the Black Pearl lolled as a dark blot on the sea. Men lazed on her steamy decks. They had an air of hopelessness about them. Despite the ropes of pearls, gold earrings, and other jewelry that they wore – prizes taken from other ships – they were melancholy.
As the long day droned on, the sticky heat muffling them and sapping what energy they had, someone on the foredeck commenced a low, doleful dirge. The others picked it up, man by man, their voices rising. Then they spoke of meals they craved, and of how good it would be to get roaring drunk and take apart a tavern. They spoke of women.
The monkey swung listlessly from the rigging. No other sails were in sight, no distractions to take their minds from their woes.
At last, it was too much for William Turner. He rounded on them ferociously.
"Cursed, yes, we're cursed! We know! Life is a misery, this endless hell of it. But we brought it on ourselves, never forget. We deserve our fate."
This brought them up on their feet, angry. "Deserve it?" Twiggs cried. "How was we to know them coins was cursed? Eh? How was we to know?"
"The legends didn't say nothing like this," Nippalkin chimed in.
"Didn't they?" William said.
"Said we'd become cannibals," Koehler muttered. "That hasn't happened."
"D'ye means that if we eats each other, mebbe we'll be cured?" asked Ketchum. He looked dubiously at his neighbors, all of whom stepped aside, and out of reach.
"Blessed with good luck, they said."
"Blessed, yes. I seem to remember," said William, "that the coins would make those who held them undefeated in battle. Look around you, gents. Have we suffered a defeat since?"
"That's 'cause we're immortal," Pintel said. "Can't die, can't be defeated."
"Immortal," said Ragetti. "Unaging, too, I hope. Not like Tithonus. I think it was Tithonus. Or maybe Tithonius. He got immortality, but kept getting older so that he couldn't ever die –"
Pintel shot him an elbow, which made his head jerk so that the eye William had whittled for him popped out. Ragetti caught it, fumbled it, and finally stuck it back in his head. It didn't quite fit the socket, that eye, and William had purposefully not bothered to do his best work on the whittling.
"Me, I'd rather risk that and be able to enjoy a spot of rum," came a grumble from Hawksmoor, which was answered by a chorus of ayes.
"Well, no chance of that, is there?" William shrugged. "It's what we get for mutiny, true enough."
In the midst of the uproar of protests, the monkey leaped with a scolding screech at William. Its skinny limbs dug in as its teeth closed on the rim of his ear. Its matted fur was in his face. He tore it away, holding it by the scruff and meaning to kick the damned little beast into the mainmast, when all at once Barbossa was in front of him. The shade of his hat couldn't hide his glower, or the way his eyes fixed with smoking hatred on William.
"Ye go too far, Bootstrap," he said.
William dropped the monkey. It spat on his boot and scrambled up Barbossa's great-coat to the shoulder.
"I'm only speaking my mind," he said evenly.
"Ye've been spouting off about Jack Sparrow ever since we gave him his sunny island vacation," Barbossa said. "I should've sent ye with him."
"It was wrong and we all know it," William said. "Mutiny? And for what? For greed? Hah! Jack Sparrow was the most even and generous of captains when it came to doling out shares –"
"Except for that girl," Pintel said. "Tasty little poppet, she was."
"Tasty," echoed Ragetti, and leered. His eye rolled in his head with an unpleasant sucking sound.
"Jack would have shared out the treasure equally," William said.
"Are ye saying that I didn't?" There was a dangerous tone to Barbossa's voice now, a soft and deadly one.
William plunged on regardless. "I'm saying that it wasn't greed that made you want to be rid of Jack. You couldn't abide him in the least."
"That be not true," Barbossa said. "Jack Sparrow made a fine clown. He was just no fit captain."
"You hated him, you were jealous of him, and when you saw your chance, you were glad to be rid of him."
"I'm warning ye, Bootstrap. I've put up with yer guff for nigh long enough now."
"What are you going to do, Barbossa?" He glanced deliberately to Barbossa's side, where the older man's hand was resting on the butt of his pistol. "Kill me?"
The rest followed William's glance. Clubba tittered his shrill giggle and choked the sound off quickly. The monkey squealed.
Barbossa's eyes tightened. "No more out of ye, says I. Consider it an order, Mister Turner."
William inclined his head. As Barbossa made to turn away, he spoke.
"You may be immortal, Barbossa, but if you live five hundred years you'll still never be half the captain Jack Sparrow was."
"That does it!" Barbossa wheeled, drawing the pistol. He leveled it at William's face. "Lads, I think we're done with him. Grab hold of him if ye please."
They closed in. William retreated and reached for his own guns, but Simbakka's massive hands settled on his wrists with bone-grinding force before he could draw them. Even if he had, what good would his marksmanship do against men who would not die? He struggled, thinking that if he could break away and run for the rail, he could swim for it. Few of the rest of them swam, they couldn't follow him under sail, and by the time they could get out the sweeps or ready and man the longboats, he'd be –
Six pirates wrestled him down. He heard, above their grunts of effort and his own, Barbossa barking orders. Something about one of the cannons, one of the eight-pounders, dear God, were they going to shoot him with a cannon? Did they expect that would kill him, when nothing else apparently could?
But then Barbossa called for several lengths of rope. William Turner was lifted and lashed to the round brass barrel of the cannon. Barbossa even threaded the rope through his bootstraps, after divesting him of the pistols he customarily carried there.
The eight-pounder fired eight-pound balls, but the cannon itself weighed most of a ton. Barbossa patted it.
"This be a fine gun and 'tis sorry I am to see her go," he said, "But let's just be making sure we've heard the last of ye, Bootstrap Bill."
"Bastard!" William spat, as the men behind him bent and heaved and the cannon trundled over the deck toward a gap in the rails.
"Give my regards to Davey Jones," Barbossa said.
They pushed him over the side.
Cannon and all, he struck the water with a colossal splash and was pulled down so fast that his hair and clothing streamed up in wavering whips and straggles. A stream of bubbles shot up from the end of the cannon.
He saw the keel of the Black Pearl, and the jeering faces lined up along her rails. A few startled fish flicked by in quicksilver winks.
The water went from balmy turquoise to emerald. The surface was a shifting sparkle of sunlight that dimmed as he sank deeper and deeper still. The water was dark blue, then indigo.
How deep was the ocean? How many fathoms had he already fallen? Beyond any reach of weighted chain and line? Would he sink forever into its depths, its darkness?
The surface was no longer discernible. He was blind in a sightless black, blind and deaf, conscious only of the hard curve of the cannon, the ropes digging into him, and a peculiar groaning sensation that seemed to be coming from his very head. As if the bones there were in the grasp of some enormous crushing fist.
Then William began to perceive tiny flitting streaks of light and color. This was it … the hallucinations of a dying mind … perhaps even the dreadful immortality of the curse could only withstand so much.
He had one moment of bright hope that this would indeed prove to be so, and then one of the streaks flickered directly above his face and he saw it to be a fish. No longer than a man's finger, it had flesh like milky translucent glass and two stripes along its sides. These stripes, one red and one a vivid blue, glowed with their own living light.
More of them passed. Schools of them. Lit from within by colors he had never seen even in the tropical flowers of the upper world. They darted around him curiously. Some nipped at his trailing hair, or brushed his skin with scales like cold silk.
The cannon struck with a jolt that shook William's body to the bone. The fish scattered, but in their fading light he saw a cloud of silt whirl up from the sea bottom to swallow him. The feeling of movement stopped.
So … there was a limit to the ocean depth.
William lay motionless. His ribcage creaked. It felt as though a sea chest full of solid bricks of gold was settled upon his chest. That iron grip still held his skull.
The silt cleared and, gradually, the fish returned. Some larger ones moved among them now, their organs aglow like pulsing sacks of light. He witnessed one of the finger-length fish with the red and blue stripes skim the sandy bottom to investigate a dancing ball of light. All at once, the sand surged as something quick and toothy lunged up from it and snatched the fish into its maw.
The fish sampled him again. He shifted his shoulders and snapped his head side to side, sending them zipping away. Clearly, they were not used to dead men still being quite so lively.
Craning his neck as best he was able, he surveyed what he could see of his surroundings. The St. Elmo's fire of the fish-lights only offered him glimpses of a dark and silent world. He saw pure white crabs scuttling past ghostly starfish whose thick limbs could have spanned a wagon wheel. No vegetation grew down here, except for some lichen-like crusts on debris from above. Cannonballs. The waterlogged wreckage of ships. Crockery – here a plate with delicate gold edging half-buried in the sand, there a wide-mouthed jar.
And bones … the bones of men, barely recognizable by the growths that covered them. He saw a grinning jawbone, with the hoop of an earring nearby. He saw pistols and cutlasses and pipes and coins.
That he was evidently not the first sailor to come to rest in these deep waters hardly comforted him. Those others had already been dead when they fell, and did not face the prospect of an eternity of awareness.
William did not know how long he stayed like that. It was impossible to tell night or day or any passage of time. The tides and the weather could not touch him.
He heard the occasional hooting cries of whalesong and once saw the creatures, or at least the bulky shadows of them, passing above.
No mermaids came to rescue or taunt him. No sea serpents hove into view and swallowed him whole.
Eventually he quit thrashing when the fish came by. They could do no real harm to him, and after a few nibbles they always swam away. Perhaps he was not to their liking.
His clothing deteriorated in the salt water. His bound hands could feel corrosion pitting the brass of the cannon. But his treasured boots, those still held up well.
And the ropes … sturdy as they were, the ropes softened and weakened.
Until it finally happened that he gave an experimental kick with both legs and felt them fray and snap.
He strained against the rest of them and they went, one by one. When his hands were free, he was able to pull and squirm himself entirely out of their coils. He slid sideways off the cannon and sent more silt billowing when he landed on all fours on the ocean floor.
The fish, surprised by this much movement, vanished. William groped about in the utter blackness. He got to his feet. It was a grueling chore in the unimaginable weight of the water. He wondered how it was that such fragile-seeming things as the fish and crabs could bear it.
Each step was as slow and cautious as any blind man seeking to navigate an unfamiliar place. He shuffled his feet, stirring up more silt. Whenever his toes struck something, he bent to examine it with his fingers. Rocks … a length of wood that might have been the rail of a ship … a cannonball, a twelve-pounder by the feel, though it was as impossible to gauge weight as it was depth down here … bones … the prick of a pin as he found something that felt like a brooch.
His attempts at swimming upward met with failure. He hadn't the air in his lungs, the buoyancy, to rise toward the surface. All he could do was trudge and hope that he was bearing in a steady direction.
He stumbled over the blade of a cutlass, would have severed his toes if not for his boots. Here was a heap of perfectly round pebbles – grapeshot. There was a broken bottle that had perhaps once held rum or wine. He found an unbroken bowl or basin of some sort, and used it in his slow shuffle to hold anything that felt like coins or jewels.
Doing this made him admit to himself that he must have some hope left, after all. If he was gathering money, surely that meant that some part of his mind could envision a future in which he'd be able to spend it.
Another eternity passed as he made his way on, collecting what he could. He needed no sleep, and so never paused to rest.
His feet sent the sand-dwelling predators speeding away in a flurry. Once, a vast shape loomed and swept over him, a manta like some cloaked angel of death, its underbelly a pale blur as the luminous fish scattered, its mouth a needle-ringed cavern. A crab the size of a dog challenged him, rearing up and scissoring its claws.
The immense carcass of a whale blocked him and he went around it, awed by the curves of ribs that could have encompassed the keel of a ship.
He found shipwrecks, exploring them by feeling his way through their hatches and cabins and holds. Most showed the devastating signs of cannonballs through their hulls. Others were charred almost beyond recognition. In one, he found a cloth bag that fell apart as he touched it, leaving behind a pile of coins.
The slope of the sea bed was so gradual that he did not know he had been rising until he realized that he could see. The inky dark had taken on a quality more like that of a late twilight, letting him discern shapes and shadows.
The undersea landscape changed around him as he continued on his way. He began to see shells littering the sand, and plant life. Long supple blades of kelp caressed him as he passed. Shelves of coral and spiny sea urchins covered the wrecked ships.
A greater abundance of fish teemed all around him. Eels shot from holes in the rocky ledges to snap at his legs. Giant turtles paddled by him without so much as a glance. Then, sharks … their flat black eyes regarding him with cool calculation.
These changes gladdened him greatly – he was coming to shallower waters! Coming, perhaps, to land! But, perversely, now that he could see and was inspired to travel faster, he was slowed by the sea-grasses that tangled his legs and hampered by the increased numbers of fish who got in his way or tried to take bites out of him.
He saw a ship pass by on the surface, a dark and rippling form high above him.
Brighter and clearer still, the water … a clean turquoise around a wild riot of colors. The fish were brilliant in reds, yellows, blues, greens. Anemones waved their tendrils, sometimes catching hapless fish in their stinging net. Jellyfish bobbed with the tides, tentacles dangling.
The most challenging part of his journey came when he began to feel the tides, and the waves surging toward land. He was pushed, sometimes violently thrown, at the mercy of the power of the water. It was all he could do to hang onto the few things he had collected, and hold a silver tray atop the basin for a lid.
At last, he saw the mountain of an island rising before him. Though it meant more battering from the waves, William fought toward shore. His head broke the surface, and the undiluted sunlight was so strong that the world was initially nothing but a searing white dazzle.
When his sight returned, he was overjoyed to behold swaying palms, a pristine beach, and rocky cliffs where sea birds nested and swooped. He struggled through the final coral reefs, sure that by the time he got a look at his legs he would find them shredded from the sharp edges, and waded through the churning surf.
Such a sight he must have presented … emerging from the sea clad only in the few remaining rags of his clothes and the leathery scraps of boots and belt. His skin, blue-grey and wrinkled, looked like that of a long-drowned corpse. Then again, was that not what he was?
The wet brown beach indented under his feet. Foam curds dried to scales higher up, at the tide line where a marker of broken bits of shell and snarled brown kelp divided the damp from the dry.
He fell to his knees in loose, hot white sand. With the covered basin set aside, he flopped full-length and rolled onto his back, splaying his arms and gazing up at the blameless blue sky.
Everything was different.
The buildings and faces unfamiliar, the air cold and foreboding and grey.
His steps slowed as he neared the little house. What would he say to her? After all this time, almost fifteen years, what would he possibly say? How could he explain to her the disturbing fact that he did not look all of his age? He had not aged a day, seemingly, since the curse had set upon him. But he was more weathered than she would remember … and that might make up for the rest of it.
He was well-dressed, rather dashing in fact in velvet breeches and a waistcoat, and new high black boots. No pistols tucked through the straps in the front; Bootstrap Bill was no more.
A trio of boys raced down the street, released from their schoolwork for the day and reveling in their freedom. William looked searchingly at them, but of course his Will would be far older than this. His Will would be nearly a man by now, hard as that was to believe.
He had come from the sea with a modest fortune in gold, silver, and jewels. Not that such things had mattered on the island, where he made his own shelter by hewing palm fronds with his cutlass. He had been there through torrid rainy seasons and blistering heat waves, through a hurricane that bent the palms and made their fronds spin and whir in the force of the wind.
From time to time, ships came by. Most commonly, pirate vessels. Whenever he sighted such a ship making for his cove, he dismantled his crude shelter and hid himself away, where he could see but not be seen, hear without being heard.
The cove was an ideal spot for careering a ship, to scrape and repair the hull. Parties went out into the jungle for coconuts and fruit, climbed the cliffs to rob nests of their eggs, shot down birds for food. William never begrudged them this, for it was not as if he needed those provisions for himself.
His only concern was that they might, while tramping along with their water-buckets toward the stream, find his footprints and realize that the island was not so deserted as it seemed. He did not worry that they would find his cache of treasure, which he had carefully buried.
Whenever he was visited by these unknowing intruders, he listened to their talk with all eagerness. Any news was welcome, but what interested him most was news of the Black Pearl.
She was still out there, and even these hardened pirates crossed themselves or spat between their fingers at the mention of her name. Barbossa had gone far beyond mere piracy and become a figure of terrible legend. The ship of the damned, they said. The black ship, faster than the wind. Crewed by the dead and captained by a man more wicked than Old Scratch himself.
Still out there, still raiding, amassing a king's fortune and leaving forts, ships, and towns ruined in her wake.
William had never dared approach any of these pirates. Even if he could have gone unrecognized, passing himself off as a shipwrecked sailor, what would he have done when the moon rose?
One day, to his incredulity, he had heard mentioned the name of Jack Sparrow. Jack had survived being marooned. Escaped … though the exact method was the cause of some argument. Some men maintained that Jack Sparrow had tamed a friendly dolphin and ridden it away. Others stoutly held that the island had been the secret home of a race of warrior-women ruled by a golden queen, and Jack had so won her heart that she very nearly was unwilling to let him go. Still others claimed that they had heard it on good authority that Jack had built himself a ship that did not sail on the sea, but on the very air, and had flown to freedom.
But all agreed that Jack Sparrow was alive. Not the captain he had been; indeed, they made him seem a cheery but ineffectual prankster whose luck with ships was well nigh abominable. They sank under him, blew up around him, or were lost in foolhardy wagers as readily as they had been won.
William Turner – who had called himself Bill Carpenter when he had finally needed a new name – stood across the street from the house running these thoughts through his mind like beads on a string.
So many years, and here he was, home at last.
A youth strode toward him, a dark-haired and tall young man, and William called out before he was certain he should. "Will?"
The youth, seeing William's attention on him, looked back as if he thought this man might be hailing someone coming along behind. Seeing nobody, he shrugged. "Sorry, sir? My name's Jim, if you please."
"My … my apologies," William said. He indicated the little house. "I'm here for the Turners. Anne, and Will, do you know them?"
"The Turners, sir? Can't say that I do. It's Missus Babbington as lives there."
"Thank you," William said, and watched the youth go on his way. He studied the house again, with more trepidation than ever.
Missus Babbington … had his Anne remarried? Had she given up on him? As well she should, really. He was here, but what kind of fit husband to her could he be? Ageless, undying, and revealed as a monster by moonlight's silver gleam. It had been a mistake to come here. Would be a worse one to stay.
Yet he had to know. Had to see her, at least, and see his son.
His island refuge had lost its solitary splendor a few years later when a shipload of settlers had arrived, and commenced building a town. He had presented himself to them as the sole survivor of a ship lost in a terrible storm, bought clothes, and arranged passage in a private cabin on the very next ship.
During the long voyage, he had taken great pains to never go out on deck by night unless he knew for a certainty that there would be no moon, and to stay well away from portholes when those cool beams reached into the darkened rooms lest anyone should come in and catch him by surprise.
And now, almost fifteen years after bidding farewell to his wife and son, he had returned.
The door of the house opened as if in response to his scrutiny, and a woman emerged. She was quite plump and white-haired, her face a rosy pink with shining eyes. She waddled down the short flight of steps with a basket on her arm, and glanced at him.
"Anne Turner," he said. The woman's eyes were the wrong color, not Anne, not his Anne at all. "Is she here?"
"My word," she said, and clucked her tongue. "She's been gone years, m'lord. Passed on, she did. I remember her well. She taught my girls their letters."
The street pitched and rolled under him like the deck of a storm-tossed ship. He barely kept his footing.
"Are you well, m'lord?" Her round, merry face drooped. "Oh, I am sorry for telling you such sad news."
"Anne is dead?"
"Must be seven years ago," she confirmed.
"And the … and the boy? Will?"
"Little Will Turner," she said, and smiled again. "Oh, he was a dear chap. My girls were quite taken with him, that they were."
Whatever heart had been left in him after the curse now seemed ready to shrivel into dust. "When did he die?"
"Lawd, I don't know as he did," the woman said, crossing herself. "I would have taken him in, poor orphaned lad. His father had run off to sea, you know."
"Yes, I know."
"And him and his mother left all alone. Well, they did fine by themselves, and when dear Anne fell so sick, there wasn't a one of her neighbors who wouldn't have cared for the boy. But he'd have none of it. Left, he did, and said he was going to become a merchant sailor like his father. My girls cried themselves to sleep for months after, he was such a charmer."
"He went to sea? Will did? When?"
"Right after his mother died, poor chap. Packed him a satchel and off he went. He couldn't have been more than ten. That was the last we saw of him. But my manners, m'lord … I'm Alice Babbington. We used to live just over there."
"Carpenter," he said, coming too close to forgetting and saying his real name. "Bill Carpenter. I … I was a friend of the family, but as you might guess, it's been a long while."
She clucked again. "And to then hear this, oh, I am sorry. Would you come in for some tea?"
"Thank you, but no, I must be on my way."
He left as hastily as he could, and once he was well out of sight of the house, he sat on a stoop and put his head in his hands.
Anne … dead. And Will, his son, gone off to sea. Searching for a father who even then had been lost to him, lost to the curse of the gold coins.
The gold coins! His head shot up again, eyes wide. Had Will taken the coin with him? He must have done, perhaps thinking it the only way his father might recognize him.
By now, thanks to the tales he had heard while listening to the pirates as they worked and sweated in the blazing sun, smearing hot tar on the hulls of their ships, there was more to do with the curse than just the coins. The curse demanded a blood-price, the return of the gold and an offering of blood from everyone who had stolen from the carved stone chest. Only when every last coin had been replaced and every last guilty party had shed of their blood would the curse be lifted.
He had done Barbossa a better hitch than he'd known, for with the coin in England and Bootstrap Bill lost to the bottom of the sea with all his blood still in him, there would have been no way for them ever to break the curse.
But they had been trying, according to the tales. Some said that the crew of the Black Pearl could sense the coins when they were near, and sought to reclaim each and every one. Surely such a sense could not reach as far as England, but the coin was likely no longer in England.
Suppose that Will fell into their hands? Was it possible that they could extract from the son the blood of the father, and free themselves that way?
He was seized in a greater pain than any he had known in years. In trying to condemn Barbossa and the others for their crimes, he might have lost his only son.
"And what do you think you're
Her brother's voice was like a whipcrack, and Emily Fletcher jumped halfway out of her skin. The pie she had been holding popped into the air and she juggled for it, catching it again before it could fall and burst its crust and splatter its filling all over the kitchen.
She spun to face him, trying to interpose her body between his eyes and the basket, but of course that was no use. It was a large basket, and she was a thin woman.
"For pity's sake, what are you creeping up on me like that for?"
"Planning a picnic, Emily? It's a trifle late." He tipped his head toward the window, where the sunset turned the sky between the chimney-pots to red-streaked gold.
"What I plan and what I do is none of your concern, John. I'm not a child."
"No, but you are living under my roof. You should count yourself lucky for that. It's not many men who'd support –"
"A plain old spinster of a sister," she finished with him, in a sigh. "Yes, John. I know what a burden I am on you, Margaret, and the children. I know what a kindness you're showing me. And I am very grateful."
"Funny way of showing it, robbing the larders," he huffed. "Meaning to give it to that wastrel, Carpenter, are you? I hardly see the need. He's got money enough. He doesn't need your charity."
"I only thought that a home-cooked meal might do him some good –"
"Or is there something else you've in mind?" John asked, his face suddenly sly. "Set your sights on him, have you?"
"It's nothing of the sort. I merely feel sorry for him, all alone in that big house."
"You would say that. Here I was hoping you might marry the man. A wealthy husband, ah, now, that would more than make up for the years I've had to take care of you. But if it's only neighborly interest on your part, save it for church and quit taking food from the mouths of my children."
"Yes, John," she said, head lowered.
"Put those things back in the pantry. Haven't you a pile of mending you should be seeing to?"
He waited until she began removing the items from the basket, and scoffing more loudly with each – a pot of chicken stew swaddled in cloth to keep the heat, bread, sausages, paper-wrapped pieces of fried fish. Only then did he shake his head at her, and mutter something under his breath, and leave the kitchen.
Emily returned the basket to the high shelf. She looked at the pile of mending with another sigh. John's boys, her nephews, were the very devil on their clothes. If it wasn't the mending, it was the laundry, and Margaret no help with either lest it damage her pretty white hands.
When their parents had died, first Mother and then Father not a year later as if he couldn't bear living without her, John had grumbled ferociously about having to take his unmarried sister into his household. But he had soon seen advantages aplenty, dismissing the cook and the maid so that Emily could take over their duties and he'd have more money to spend on jewelry and gifts and other foolishness for his elegant young wife.
She worked at her chores until the rest of the household was asleep, and then sought her narrow bed by the light of a single candle. After changing into her nightgown she unbraided her hair. Her one vanity, it fell to her hips in waves of auburn. John told her she would do better cutting it short and selling the length to a wigmaker; that having such hair as her crowning glory was like putting a tiara on a toad.
A single small looking glass showed her the same reflection. Thin face with a mouth too wide … but she did not think she was all that homely. Compared to Margaret, certainly; Venus herself would look the drab beside Margaret Fletcher's pale golden beauty.
Putting the glass aside, she blew out the candle and was on the verge of getting into bed when she saw a light burning in the house on the hill. Mister Carpenter, then, and up late as usual. It was as if the man never slept.
He rattled around those big rooms like the last bean in the bin, and it really was a shame. A nice-looking man like him, a bit weather-worn perhaps, but with just that appealing touch of sadness around his dark eyes that made a woman want to comfort him …
She grabbed her dressing-gown and flew on quick, silent feet back to the kitchen. Damn John, anyway. There was no shortage of food in the larder. Margaret ate like a bird. What harm would it do to show a friendly gesture to their neighbor? Not because he was wealthy, not because she fancied him, but because it was the decent thing to do.
The basket was refilled in a trice, even by the dim light of the kitchen fire's embers. Without once stopping to think how dreadfully inappropriate it was to be paying a call at this hour, unchaperoned and in her night-clothes, Emily hurried out the door and through the gate, and up the path that led to the rear garden of Carpenter's house.
The night was brisk and cool, the moon beaming down full and round. She slipped through the garden like a sprite, if anyone had ever heard of a sprite of mid-thirties, and was approaching the back door when her skin set to crawling as if someone was watching her.
A quick glance showed her nothing. She set one bare foot on the step, and that was when she saw the ghastly apparition in the window.
Emily froze in place, her heart stuttering, her breath snagged like a thorn in her throat.
It was gone.
Only a drapery … only some trick of light and shadow in the folds of the drapery. A trick of the moonlight. Yes.
Still, what a shiver it done her. It occurred to her how mad a mission this was. How furious John would be when he found out. And what might Mister Carpenter think, having her skulking about his garden like a sneak-thief in the night?
Then, from within the house, there came a cry. A shocked and horrible cry, as of someone being murdered.
She never gave it a thought but threw open the door and dashed in. The basket, she shoved heedlessly onto a table, and had it gone crashing to the floor she might not have noticed.
Mister Carpenter was halfway up the main stairs, sprawled there, gasping terribly. She flew to his side, dressing-gown billowing, sure that he was dying. But even as she reached him, he sat up, and his look was one of utter disbelief. He looked down at his hands as if not sure they truly belonged to him, then up at her.
"Oh, Mister Carpenter, what's happened? Are you ill? Should I send for the doctor? My brother has a pony-trap, and it wouldn't take but half an hour –"
"The curse," he said, in a strange and shaky way. "I … I feel it. Miss Fletcher, I …"
To her shock, he suddenly reached out and cupped her cheek in his palm. Then, a wild fever in his eyes, he flung himself upright and ran to the nearest window. He raked back the drapes and stood in a shaft of moonlight, whirling to face her.
"What do you see?" he demanded.
"Only you," she stammered. "What … what should I see?"
"But if it is so … if it is true … then they must have found him. Ah, Will!"
And he crumpled to his knees and wept.
Emily had not the first idea what to do. He did not seem sick, but neither did he seem well. And if she did send for the doctor, what would the town make of that? Miss Fletcher, in a gentleman's house well past dark, her in her night-dress and him raving mad? John would have her in a convent before she could blink.
But she could not leave him here alone in his anguish. She went to him, touched his shoulder. "Hush, now, Mister Carpenter. It can't be that bad, can it?"
Apparently it was, for he clung to her like a man drowning. In the midst of his sobs, she made out words – Anne, Will, Barbossa, gold, curse, pirates – until at last she patted him and soothed him and spoke to him the way she would have to one of her nephews who'd fallen and scraped a knee.
It worked, and she was able to persuade him into the kitchen, where she found the kettle and put it on for tea. As she was doing this, he wiped tears from his cheeks and stared at the basket she had left upon the table.
"I … I smell chicken," he said, sounding as if this was the most remarkable thing in the world.
"Chicken stew," she said. "Though it's no longer very warm. I thought, pardon me if I'm out of turn, but I thought you might do with a good meal. From what I hear, no one's ever seen you eat so much as a speck." She looked around the kitchen, which was clean but plainly unused, its pantry empty. There weren't even crumbs to sustain a single mouse.
"Chicken stew!" He lifted off the basket's cover. "And bread, fresh bread? Have you any idea how long it's been since I've had fresh-baked bread?"
She was amused despite herself. This was all so passing strange that she wondered if she might be dreaming. Could she really be here, in his house, with the collar of her dressing-gown damp from his weeping, while he held up a loaf of perfectly ordinary bread like he'd found the Holy Grail?
"Well, tuck in, then," she said, unable not to giggle. "There's a crock of butter and pot of jam in there as well."
By the time the kettle boiled – and she found that there was no tea in the kitchen anyway – Mister Carpenter had demolished the loaf and was starting on the stew. She'd never seen anyone eat with such appetite, or so savor a humble chicken stew.
"My word," she said. "What, may I ask, is the matter?"
"It's wrong of me, I know," he said. "To eat so heartily under the circumstances. But it's been so long, Miss Fletcher. And … and perhaps I'm mistaken. Perhaps it has nothing to do with Will. After all, what do I know about curses? Except how to suffer one, of course. What I should say is, what do I know of breaking them?"
"I'm afraid I don't follow, Mister Carpenter."
"My name is Turner," he said. "William Turner. If you'll indulge me, Miss Fletcher, I will tell you my tale. I doubt you'll believe it, but after all these years it will be a relief just to have it told."
The Caribbean, 1719
The Jolly Nell plied
her way over the sparkling blue sea. She was running ahead of a strong
breeze with a vigorous corkscrewing motion, her sails full and her decks
busy with active sailors in white britches cut off below the knee, and
red-and-white striped shirts.
Her commanding officer stood stiff and tall upon the quarterdeck, a spyglass planted firmly to his eye. Above, in the rigging, the top-men scanned the horizons.
"A lovely day, sir," the officer said.
The man beside him only nodded. His gut felt knotted, sweat slicked his brow and the palms of his hands.
Ahead, a school of flying fish erupted from the water, skimming its surface. The sailors cheered and pointed them out to one another. Good omens, such fish, good omens indeed.
It had been an uneventful crossing thus far. The spirits of the crew had brightened along with the sun, warmed along with the weather.
As the sun tracked westward, it burned into a fiery red-orange ball in the west. The sky was painted in broad strokes of scarlet, gold, violet and blue. The wind shifted, freshened. The masts and yards creaked and men scrambled to adjust the rigging.
"You may as well go below, sir," the officer said. "You've been there all the day. Do you not care for sailing? Pardon me if I presume, but I have noticed that you know your way around as might one of my best men, and so it is passing strange to me that you seem so ill at ease."
William Turner smiled slightly. "My memories of the sea and of sailing are both good and bad, Lieutenant. They do not balance well within me."
"Sail ahoy! Off the stern!" came a cry from above.
The lieutenant, florid uncomfortable in his starched shirt and uniform coat with its gold frogging, turned and raised his spyglass again. It dropped from his eye almost immediately, and his jaw fell open.
"Rouse the captain, Mister Phillips!" he shouted.
"But the captain's sick, sir, confined to his bed!"
"Rouse him and I don't care if he's vomited up blood!"
William Turner looked back. Behind the Jolly Nell and bearing down at what seemed an impossible speed was a sleek and glorious black ship. He was rooted to the spot as all around him pandemonium reigned, the other men having caught sight of their pursuer now.
"All hands to quarters! Starboard gunners! Ready a broadside!"
"The Black Pearl," William said.
"We're done for if we fight!" the bo'sun yelled at the lieutenant. "They'll kill us to a man!"
"They'll kill us anyway," the lieutenant replied. "If we fight, we might at least have the mercy of a quicker and more honorable death. Check your weapons, men!"
The captain, green as old cheese, staggered up the companionway. The ship's doctor, a fussy little man whose balding pate would never be loved by the tropical sun, trotted at his side telling him that he was being a fool, he was sick, he had to rest. The captain's only answer was to shove him bodily aside, then reel and vomit and drop to his knees in the puddle.
Oblivious to all this, William only watched her come, slicing the water cleanly and throwing back sprays of it from beneath her plunging prow. Her sails were taut and full, her black paint shining like sealskin. Gone were the signs of decay wrought by the curse. Sunset light flashed blood-sparks from the poking snouts of her many cannons.
"Do you shoot, sir?" the lieutenant asked.
William nodded, and a pistol was thrust into his hands. He returned it. "I have my own."
The lieutenant broke off, eyebrows raised as a woman stepped up beside William with a leather case in her hands. She flicked its brass catches and opened the lid, revealing a row of loaded pistols snugged neatly down into a velvet bed.
"I expected you might want these," she said, with enviable calm.
"Thank you, my dear." He tucked them all about his person, and noted with wry amusement that the lieutenant gaped as the woman took two for herself.
She was lean and trim, not buxom, not precisely pretty, but there was a strikingly handsome quality to her features. Her auburn hair was twisted up in a knot, and she wore a split-skirt for ease of movement on deck.
"Would … ah … would you care for a sword, Mister Turner? Or, indeed, Missus Turner?" the lieutenant said, clearly flummoxed.
Before either of them could answer, the top of the forward mast burst apart in a shower of splinters. A half-second later, the boom of the shot reached their ears. One of the sails sagged.
"Run out the starboard guns!" someone ordered.
Port flaps came open all along the Jolly Nell's starboard side. Men grunted as they heaved the cannons into place. The ship heeled over. William steadied his wife, who was not yet so sure of her footing, and guided her to a place where she could hold on. Her face was set, but he had told her in too great a detail of these pirates and fear lurked behind her eyes.
A popping volley of muskets went off, followed by the simultaneous bellow of the starboard cannons. White plumes splashed up between the Jolly Nell and the advancing Black Pearl, but all fell short of striking. The Black Pearl's return shot holed the hull at the stern. She still flew the flag calling for their surrender, the skull and crossbones rippling on a field of black. It had not yet been replaced by the unmarked sheet of blood-red that would declare no mercy.
The captain, still green and choking, asked the lieutenant if they could outrun her. The lieutenant, grim as a man already hearing his coffin closing, shook his head and said that no ship had ever matched the Black Pearl for speed, even before the very breath of the Devil himself had filled her sails.
One of the sailors had gone mad from terror, and ran about the ship screaming how these pirates could not be killed, they might shoot and shoot and slash them to ribbons and blow cannonballs clean through them but they would still walk. The bo'sun's mate gave him such a slap that William saw, even from the quarterdeck, a tooth jump from the man's mouth.
"Guns … and fire!" the gunner's voice rang out.
Again, the starboard cannons went off. This was not so synchronous a volley, as the men were clumsy and shaking in their fear. One of them was not quick enough getting out of the way, and as the heavy cannon slammed backward in its recoil, its truck went over his foot. He fell on the deck, howling, as blood pumped from the mangled flesh.
But, uneven though it may have been, more than half of the cannonballs found their mark. Holes appeared as if by magic in the Black Pearl's sails. A yardarm was sheared off, pulling a slew of loose rigging. One shot struck the cast-iron of the ship's bell with a toll like doomsday, and caromed straight up in the air. A section of the Black Pearl's railing vanished in a wooden hurricane. The pained cries and curses from the pirates brought a ragged cheer from the throats of the Jolly Nell's men.
"Port!" piped the high and piercing voice of one of the young lads near the topmasts. "To the port, a longboat, they're boarding us!"
Hardly anyone seemed to hear him amid the general din. William Turner spun about, and sure enough grappling hooks bit into the Jolly Nell's rail, and pirates were already swarming up their ropes and leaping onto the deck.
"William?" Emily asked, rather tense.
"Steady on, my dear."
The space between the quarterdeck and the pirates was roiling with smoke. Men dashed through it. William raised his guns, and then saw a man in a long coat and a tri-cornered hat vault over the rail. His cuffed boots struck the planking.
"Barbossa," William breathed.
He aimed at the man's head, which was dipped so that the hat concealed his features. William made himself wait. He wanted to see Barbossa's face before he fired, he wanted to watch the bastard's head burst like an overripe melon.
The dipped brim of the hat came up. William's finger tightened. He was already seeing the place for his shot in his mind's eye. The low center of the forehead, just above the bridge of the nose …
Keen and alert, the pirate looked about. A mass of dark braids flew around his head, some of them beaded and hung all with silvery bangles. Smaller beaded braids hung from his chin. Gold flashed quick in his white grin, the grin of a man enjoying himself immensely.
He saw William, and his own pistol was up and pointed, and for one timeless moment they stared at each other over the guns. William was so shocked he could not move, could not ease the pressure on the trigger.
Jack Sparrow blinked and looked at him again. Then his grin broadened in amazement, and his laughter rolled through the sounds of battle. He actually threw back his head and slapped his thigh. While William was still stunned motionless, Jack put his pistol away. He sauntered toward the quarterdeck through the seething smoke, shouting in a slurred but commanding voice for his men to cease.
The bewildered sailors of the Jolly Nell struck a few more blows that the pirates easily deflected. They looked first to their captain, but that worthy was slumped over the rail with the doctor bustling uselessly at his side, and then to their lieutenant.
The lieutenant, equally bewildered, looked at William Turner.
"It's all right," he said, fervently hoping that it was. Pirates were, after all, still pirates, and the Jolly Nell was a rich little prize. "Tell your men to lay down their arms. No harm will come to them."
The order was given, and moments later, Jack Sparrow swayed to a halt at the bottom of the short flight of steps leading up to the quarterdeck. Though he had been largely unimpeded in his progress, and though the Jolly Nell was fairly steady, he had crossed as though trying to make his way through a great crowd of people on a tossing deck.
When he stopped, he rocked from one boot to the other, nearly fell, and caught himself.
"Jack Sparrow," William said.
"That's Captain Jack Sparrow, Mister Turner," Jack said. "Captain, captain, why is it so hard for them to remember?"
"You … know this man?" the lieutenant asked, aghast.
Both William and Jack ignored him.
"You're alive," William said.
"I could say the same of you."
"And you've regained the Black Pearl."
Jack's gaze went to the ship, where a crew of pirates all unfamiliar to William lined the rails, peering curiously through the smoke and asking each other what was going on.
"Aye," he said, his expression that of a man viewing the one woman he adores above all others. "That I have, and it's quite a story. You'll want to hear it. Perhaps over a pint or three of rum?"
"You'll let these good sailors go?"
"It'd hardly be gentlemanly of me to go and sack their ship, now, would it? Not when they've brought old friends together again." He swiveled drunkenly around – by the looks of it, he'd had a pint or three, or six, of rum already – and did an elaborate leg to the lieutenant, sweeping off his hat as he did so. "Congratulations, sir … you'll always remember this as the day you were let go free by Captain Jack Sparrow."
"Thank you," William said, when the poor lieutenant was too thunderstruck to speak.
"No, thank you, William Turner. If not for you, in a way, I'd not be here today. Funny that you'd go and turn up, just when I'd finally delivered that diary of yours." Jack's shrug was a liquid, expressive thing, and he stumbled a step or two until he slouched against the rail.
"Found it still hidden away where you always used to keep it," Jack said. "Not that I read it, though." He leaned conspiratorially close to the bo'sun. "I've the utmost respect for the personal property of others, you see."
Quite clearly, William heard one of the Jolly Nell's midshipmen mutter to another, "He's got to be the strangest pirate I've ever seen."
"Right!" Jack clapped his hands. "Will you come aboard, Mister Turner? We've a lot of catching up to do."
"This makes the second time you've taken me from an English ship," William said, smiling.
"Funny how that works, isn't it?"
"May my wife accompany me?"
"Your wife!" Jack made another leg, another sweep of the hat. "Madam, at your service. So long, that is, as you don't slap me. I've gotten quite enough of that lately, and most unfairly undeserved." A pirate snorted. Jack reeled around to wag a warning finger at him, then reeled back to William and Emily. "It's so hard finding good help these days."
"Captain Sparrow," Emily said, "thank you for your courtesy."
"If you'd be so kind as to have our things brought up," William said to the quartermaster, "I believe we'll be leaving the Jolly Nell."
Emily went down to pack, while the activity on the deck got back to something approximating normal. Luckily, no one had been killed or seriously hurt in the exchange, and the doctor soon had his hands full with pulling splinters and tending burns and other minor injuries. The sailor who'd had his foot run over by the cannon was the worst of them, and the ship's carpenter soon reported no irreparable damage to the ship, either.
Jack negotiated the short flight of steps like he was walking a high wire, and bumped William with his elbow. His whisper carried to the entire quarterdeck. "I say, William, are you sure she's your wife?"
"I know who I wake up with in the mornings," William said.
"Fifteen years later and he dredges that up." Jack rolled his eyes heavenward. "I had it close enough. Roberta, Rowena, what's the difference? All right, a difference to her, maybe, but since I was impersonating her husband – darkness is a man's best friend sometimes – I think we were even. What I meant was, my compliments, she hardly looks old enough to be your wife."
"My second wife."
"Ah," Jack said. "Well, no wonder, then. I'd been asking myself how she could possibly be a grandmother, a lady so young."
"No, she … what did you say?"
Jack covered his mouth with the tips of his fingers and looked suddenly like a schoolboy caught at mischief. "Did I spoil the surprise?"
"What did you say?"
"Of course, you don't exactly look the part of a grandfather," Jack said, inclining to and fro as if caught by a high wind. "You hardly look changed at all. I should have recognized him right off, really. Uncanny, the resemblance."
With heroic restraint, William did not seize Jack by the shoulders and shake him until the beads in his braid beat the sense back into his head. This was the Jack Sparrow he knew, and yet it wasn't … as if the intervening years had so soused him in rum that he was pickled with it.
"I've met your son," Jack confided, that impish grin returning. "He's a fine fellow, your Will. Saved my life more than once, and got me my ship back. What with all that, I suppose I can forgive him for getting the girl."
"You know Will? You've seen him? He's alive?"
"Like I said, it's a long story."
"But he's all right?" Then the rest of it hit him, and William passed a trembling hand over his face. "He … has a family?"
"A lovely girl, his wife Elizabeth. I quite could have fancied her myself, you know, but it never would have worked. A pirate like me, and a governor's daughter? No, mate, it wasn't in the stars. And she and Will had all that pining, unspoken, unrequited romance going on. Do you know, she really would have married Norrington if Will hadn't finally spoken up? I don't know how many opportune moments he let pass him by." He frowned a little, somehow still keeping his grin. "Never got to the wedding either way, though."
"My son married a governor's daughter." He had to hear himself say the words before they would feel real, and even then, they didn't. "Is he a sailor?"
"And a ruddy good one, but not by trade. He's a blacksmith. As I understand it, her father had a bit to say about that. Here." Jack drew his sword and held it across the flats of his palms. "Your boy's work."
William took it, his hand slipping comfortably around the hilt. The blade was perfectly balanced, light but strong. "It's exquisite." He noticed a design worked into the crosspiece, inlaid in blue lapis. It was a wingspread sparrow, the same as on Jack's tattoo.
"You'll be pleased to know that he's almost as good using them as making them. But he's no marksman, mate. I've heard talent skips a generation. If that's the case, though, then we'd best get my young namesake started with a pistol straightaway."
"I have a grandson?"
"A fine bouncing boy. We'll have to take you for a visit. Care for a trip to Port Royal? I swear you'll hardly recognize the place."
Port Royal, 1719
"Come on, Jacky. Walk to
Mama. There's a good boy, walk to Mama." Elizabeth held out her arms.
He gazed yearningly at her, then dubiously at the distance between where she sat, on a blanket spread in their flowering, green yard, and the upended half-barrel to which he clung. He swayed side to side, then back, and nearly overbalanced onto his nappy-padded bottom.
Will, seated near her and polishing the blade of his latest creation with an oiled cloth, laughed his soft laugh. "By the look of him, we did right to name him after Jack. All he needs is a hat."
"He's only learning," Elizabeth said. "I'm sure he'll be running in no time. Come on, Jacky. I'm right here. Just a few steps."
His eyes were huge, dark, and soulful. Like hers, like Will's. His plump pink lip pooched out and his chin quivered as he seemed to measure the stretch of ground.
One hand let go its death-grip on the barrel where he'd pulled himself from a crawl to a stand. He wobbled again. Then, leaning at a slant, his pudgy little legs carried him at a barely controlled fall toward her.
He almost made it, and when she saw him start to tumble, Elizabeth darted for him, caught him under the arms, and swept him into her lap.
Jack Sparrow's boots thudded as he jumped from the top of the wall to the grass. "I walk nothing like that," he said indignantly.
Will, who had sprung up with the sword in a fighting grip, jabbed it point-first into the earth. "Jack!" He seized him in a hearty bear-hug, so that Jack's eyes like to have popped from their sockets. Will slammed him vigorously on the back.
Jack writhed, and fought his way free. He straightened his hat and wheezed. "Good to see you, as well, but you'll crack me like an egg. If I'm to have that sort of greeting, mate, I'd rather it come from Elizabeth."
"Hello, Jack," she said, and he had to settle for a kiss on the cheek instead. The baby in her arms crowed happily and snatched the beads dangling from Jack's beard.
"Ow, let me go," cried Jack. When he had escaped the little fingers, he backed up a step – nearly tripping over the upended half-barrel the way he had once gone off the high sea wall of the fortress – and rubbed his chin. "You've just reminded me yet again why I never want to get married," he said to the baby.
"What are you doing here?" Will asked. "We thought you didn't dare come to Port Royal these days."
"Now, you didn't think I'd let our old friend the commodore keep me away forever," chided Jack. "Besides, I have something for you."
"Something else?" Elizabeth asked. "Oh, no, Jack … dear Jack … you've been so generous already."
"And you sent me my father's diary," Will said. "I cannot tell you what that meant to me. I never really had the chance to know him when I was a boy."
Jack's grin was craftier than ever. "I've brought you something better."
"Better?" Elizabeth and Will glanced at each other. "What --?"
A second figure jumped down from the wall and straightened up. His face was a bit more careworn, and his eyes a bit more shadowed, but there was no mistaking him.
"Father," Will breathed.
Christine Morgan / December 2003 / firstname.lastname@example.org / christine-morgan.org