A/N: A TREMENDOUS amount of thanks goes to ErinRua and EstelWolfe. This would be riddled with many embarrassing errors if it were not for their considerate time and effort. Thank you very, very much!
Disclaimer: It's not mine. None of it's mine. Well, Ok. Part of it's mine. The cows are mine.
Of Chickens and Spilled Milk
By Kayden Eidyak
"We'll be back in a few days. A week at the most, I promise."
Jack cocked an eyebrow and gave Anamaria a very skeptical look.
"But why can't I just hide on the ship?" he asked, his face coming very close to a pout.
Anamaria sighed patiently. "Because. When he gets here, he's bound to search the ship. He'll question every person, parrot and bilge rat. You can't be here."
"My ship does not have rats," Jack insisted stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest.
She rolled her eyes. "Get in the boat, Jack."
Jack glared at her. She glared back.
Jack threw down his arms, tromped over to the railing, swung his leg over, and sat down in the boat with a prominent thump.
Anamaria leaned over the railing, fixing him with a stern look. "It's all been arranged. Go to the pub - without ordering any rum - and ask for Mr. Sunders. He'll take you to his home, and you can stay there until we return."
"Which pub, though?" Jack inquired.
"There's only one pub there, Jack. I'm sure you'll manage."
He gaped at her.
"But how will I know when you've come back for me?" he asked desperately, the thought of only one pub in the entire town sending him nearly into hysterics.
"I'll come get you. Only for a few days. We'll be back before you know it."
She smiled at him and pushed his hat down over his eyes. He yanked it back up and gave her a scowl as she and Gibbs clambered in after him.
"See ya later, Cap'n," one of the crewman called
Jack waved back to the crew, a sappy, fake smile plastered over his face.
Gibbs and Anamaria picked up the oars and rowed the captain to shore.
"Give my regards to the Commodore," he said, disembarking from the small vessel and setting off with his sea-sway stride to a run down building. He waved to them one last time before going inside.
"Well, that's that," Anamaria said, as they returned to the Pearl.
"We're ne'er gonna hear the end of this when he gets back," Gibbs muttered.
"Don't I know it," Anamaria replied. "But the Commodore will search the ship, find no trace of Jack, and will let us on our way without pressing charges - we hope,"
Gibbs nodded. "We hope," he repeated
Jack opened the creaky door that was literally falling off its hinges. It squealed horribly as it closed with a slam behind him.
"Door needs some oil," he said absently.
"Oh, aye. Been meanin' to get it fixed for the longest time, I have," a wheezy voice said.
Jack squinted in the dingy room to see a man almost half his own height hobbling out from behind the counter.
"May I help you?"
Jack stared for a moment before regaining composure.
"Ah, yes, sir. I'm looking for a Mr. Sunders. Do you know where I might find him?"
"Aye, Mr. Sunders is in the back. You must be his new farm hand."
"Aye, he's been talking about you for the last couple weeks," the old man added, turning around and making his way to a door behind the bar.
Jack followed, wondering what exactly Anamaria had gotten him into.
"James, your new farm hand has arrived."
A man a few years older than Jack looked up from what appeared to be an inventory sheet.
"Oh. We weren't expecting you for another week at least. Thank you, Tom."
Tom nodded feebly and went back out to tend the bar.
Jack rocked back and forth on his feet, then bounced up and down slightly on his toes. As a last resort, he cleared his throat loudly.
Mr. Sunders glanced up at him.
"So, Nathan Cummins, it is, isn't it?"
"Oh! Er, yes, um…I think so anyway."
Mr. Sunders looked curiously at him. "I see." He scribbled something down on his paper and then set it aside. "Well, Mr. Cummins, if you'll follow me, I'll take you up to the house. It's not too far, so I'll be able to get back here before the noontime rush."
Jack flashed a somewhat nervous smile, but followed Mr. Sunders out of the smidge of a pub and up a steepish hill. There sat a small grey house, a small grey barn, a small grey chicken coop surrounded by a fence and a small grey woodshed.
"Lovely place, you've got here, Mr. Sunders."
Mr. Sunders did not answer. He took off his hat and opened the door. "Penny, I've brought Mr. Cummins."
"Oh, he's arrived already?" A woman around Mr. Sunders' age with maple-nut brown hair pulled up in a bun came out of the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron. She stopped abruptly when she saw Jack's appearance. Laughing nervously, she said, "Would you like some lunch, Mr. Cummins?"
Jack smiled slightly. "Oh, no thank you, Mrs. Sunders. I've…already eaten."
"Very well. Bryan will show you where you can sleep," she said, patting the shoulder of a boy around twelve that had just entered the room and stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of Jack.
Jack gave what he hoped was a friendly smile, but it seemed to scare the boy even more.
"Go on, Bryan, show Mr. Cummins where he can stay in the barn."
The boy nodded silently, slipping past his parents and Jack, casting a furtive glance behind him as he went through the door.
"Well, I must go, Penny. I'll see you tonight," Mr. Sunders said.
He kissed his wife goodbye and nodded to Jack as he passed. Jack followed after him with the intentions of going with the boy to the barn when Mr. Sunders stopped him.
"You lay a hand on her or the boy and I'll kill you," he whispered fiercely.
Jack's mouth formed an 'o' of surprise before he nodded vigorously. He was way out of his element here.
Mr. Sunders smiled. "Good day, Mr. Cummins."
"Good day to you, Mr. Sunders," Jack returned, as the man strode away down the hill and out of sight.
The pirate looked around uncertainly, not knowing what to expect.
"C'mon," Bryan called from the barn door.
Jack followed the boy who led him up to the loft and pointed to the far corner where a pile of somewhat dusty blankets lay in a heap.
"When you've settled in, we can start chores," Bryan said timidly.
"Chores. You know, milk the cows, feed the horses, gather eggs, muck the stable."
"Oh, right." Jack nodded, trying to appear like he understood everything that was happening to him.
They were silent for a moment.
"Is that a real sword?" the boy inquired, pointing to the scabbard at Jack's side.
No, it's a little wooden one that I carry around to scare people with, Jack thought to himself. That thought, of course, brought back his first meeting with Norrington. "…and I half expected it to be made of wood." Jack grinned.
"Yes, it's real." He pulled it out and flipped it around the way Will did when he was showing off.
The boy gasped with awe. "Wow."
Jack's smile brightened and he sheathed the sword.
"BRYAN!" Penny called.
"Got to go," Bryan said apologetically. "I'll be back for you when it's time for chores," he added, clambering down the ladder.
"I look forward to it," Jack said half-heartedly.
Jack looked around his new accommodations. It couldn't be any less comfortable than a ship, he reasoned. Though, blankets on a ship smelled like well, a ship. And these…he sniffed one gingerly…smelled like horses.
He took off his hat, pistol, sword and compass and laid them on one of the blankets. He was going to stink by the time he left this place.
Jack was waiting for Bryan, sitting on the bottom rung of the ladder, when the boy came to get him for chores.
He handed Jack two of his four silver buckets.
"What're these for?" he asked.
Bryan looked at him with a "well isn't it obvious?" expression on his face. "They're for milking the cows, of course."
"Of course," Jack repeated. "Why didn't I think of that?" he muttered, and followed the boy to the end of the barn where four cows were already tethered, waiting to be milked.
"How come this one isn't getting milked?" Jack asked, pointing to a ridiculously fat cow in a pen by herself.
"Oh, that's Nessley. We're waiting for her to calve, still. She's the last one."
"Oh." Jack looked at the honey colored animal who stared balefully back with mud brown eyes. "So?"
"So what?" Bryan asked, picking up a stool from inside the feed trough.
"So, why can't we milk her?"
"Because she hasn't calved yet."
"Well, they've got to have a calf before they can have milk," Bryan explained patiently.
"They do?" Jack asked. "I thought they just gave milk all the time. You learn somethin' new every day," he mused to himself, scratching his chin.
Bryan gave him a look of disbelief. "You do know how to milk a cow, don't you?"
"What? Oh, yes, of course I do. Why, where I come from, we milk forty of them every day."
The boy eyed him skeptically, but did not comment. "Here, you can use the stool. I don't need it."
Jack stared at the object. "It's broken, mate."
"No, it isn't. I just made this one two months ago."
"It is too. Look, it's only got one leg."
"It's only supposed to have one leg," Bryan said. "That's what a milking stool is. Look, you just sit like this and balance on it," the boy demonstrated.
It didn't look too hard, Jack figured. He took the stool and went over to a brown-and-white-splotched cow.
"What's this one's name?" he asked, patting the beast tentatively on the rump.
He squatted down and peered under the bellies and udders of the three cows on his left to see Bryan already milking away into his pail. The pirate sat the one-legged stool down and tried to sit on it the way Bryan had shown him. He promptly lost his balance and fell off.
"Mooo," Dainty said.
"I agree," Jack said, nodding.
After another five attempts and absolutely no success, Jack gave up. He turned the stool over onto its seat and slid it under the three cows back to Bryan.
"Here ya go, mate. I really don't need it."
Bryan took it without a word, though Jack was certain he could hear sniggering muffled by a cow's flank.
Jack set his pail under Dainty's udder and stared at it uncertainly. Looking back, he saw Bryan methodically squeezing. Right hand, left hand, right hand, left hand, each one followed by a stream of milk. Looked easy enough. He followed suit: right hand, left hand, right hand left hand…no milk. He tried it again. Right hand, left hand, right hand, left hand. Still nothing.
"Say, Bryan, I think there's summat wrong with this cow. She doesn't have any milk."
"Impossible," he stated, getting up and coming over.
The boy knelt down beside Jack and with two quick squeezes, promptly got two foamy streams of milk.
"She's got loads of milk, Nathan. What are you talking about?"
Clearly, Jack was missing something.
"Like this. You squeeze at the top first, then work your way down."
Bryan went back to his own cow and ten minutes later, Jack produced his very first stream of milk. It was little more than a dribble, but it was better than nothing he figured.
"Done with her yet?" Bryan asked.
Jack looked alarmed. "Should I be?"
"Well, I'm finished with these two, but I'll start on your other one for you."
"Sure," Jack muttered, trying for all he was worth to get milk from the cow.
When Bryan had finished with the third cow, Jack had roughly two cups in his pail. Bryan put his stool on the other side of Dainty and milked her dry. Jack accumulated another cup and a half.
"Here, I'll finish the rest," Bryan said.
Jack got up gratefully, nearly tripping over his feet in the process. Bryan had Dainty finished in no time at all and he let the cows back into their pens.
"Help me take this milk to mother. She needs to strain it, and we can give the rest to the calves. Then we can feed the horses and such."
Jack picked up the two pails that were to be strained and chilled. That was easy enough. They were halfway to the house when Jack tripped over a large rock that was poking out of the ground, succeeding in sloshing half of the bucket's contents all over his pants, down his leg and straight into his boot.
"Bloody hell!" he shouted, dropping the two pails and hopping around on one foot, trying to wrestle his boot off.
It finally came off so suddenly that Jack fell backwards and quickly found himself flat on the ground. Bryan rushed over to help him up, but Jack swatted him away.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," he grumbled, emptying his boot of milk. He stood up and shoved his foot back in with a grimace.
"We can wash it in the stream after we're done tonight," Bryan offered.
Jack nodded tightly, picking up the now half empty pails, and continued to the house, squelching with every step.
"Good gracious, what happened to all the milk?" Mrs. Sunders asked, when he set down the buckets.
"Mr. Cummins tripped and part of it spilled," Bryan explained.
Penny glanced at Jack who gave her his most charming smile.
"Well, just be more careful next time. You better hurry with the rest of your chores. Dinner will be ready soon. The point of getting a farm hand was to make things go faster, not slower, you know."
Back in the barn Bryan handed Jack a pitchfork.
"Now, put hay from this pile over here," Bryan pointed to a large pile of hay, "into these feeders over here," he pointed to several feed troughs where various animals waited anxiously for their dinner. "I'm going to haul up some water."
Jack nodded and stuck the pitchfork into the hay pile. He pulled it out and was satisfied to have a large lump of hay on the end. He slowly swung it around to dump into the hay trough. Six inches from the feeder's rim all the hay fell off the fork. Jack scowled at it and once again scooped it up. It made it successfully into the feeder and Jack went back for another fork full. This one fell off before he even had it free of the pile. By the time the third scoop had fallen, Jack threw the pitchfork to one side and began taking great armfuls of hay and putting it into the feeder himself. He was making good time, he thought. Already had two feeders full. He was making his way to the third one when what should he trip over now, but the discarded pitchfork.
"Are you all right, Nathan?" Bryan asked, choosing that moment to come through the door. On purpose, no doubt, Jack figured.
"Of course," Jack said, getting to his feet, and he began scooping up the hay again.
"It's easier if you use the pitchfork," the boy commented.
"No, this is fine, thanks," Jack said quickly.
"Ok, well, while you do that, then I'll muck out the pens."
"You do that."
Jack had all the animals fed by the time Bryan had finished.
"Now we have to gather the eggs."
"Isn't that women's work?" Jack asked, his boot squishing uncomfortably with every step.
"Ma's too busy to gather eggs," Bryan replied shortly.
"Uh-huh," Jack replied moodily.
"Look, just go in there, move the hens out of the way, and take the eggs out and put them in this basket."
Bryan presented a basket from seemingly nowhere and handed it to Jack.
"What're you gonna do?"
"I've got to pen the goats up and give the calves their milk."
Bryan walked off leaving Jack standing in front of the coop with a dubious look on his face.
"Into the coop…" Jack opened the door and closed it behind him. That was easy enough. "Move the hens out of the way…" He reached out uncertainly. "Shoo," he said flapping his hand at the chicken.
The hen squawked indignantly and pecked at him.
Jack snatched his injured hand back, becoming suddenly aware of the close confines of the coop with chickens on all sides, eyeing him up.
"Easy there, lasses," Jack said soothingly, reaching hesitantly out to another one.
"Ouch!" He jumped back. "Blast it, all I want are your bloody eggs!"
The hens began clucking nervously with all his ranting.
Jack glared at one of the nearest hens and on impulse, he let his basket swing and swatted her right off her nest. He lunged for the three eggs that sat in the dent of straw as the hen came back, squawking bloody murder and attacked Jack's legs, pecking at them for all she was worth.
"Hey! Get off me! Get off, get off!
He flung the basket at the hen, accidentally smacking another one off her nest in the process, and of course sending the three eggs that were in the basket splattering against the wall.
Well, the fight was on. Chickens versus Pirate. All of them were off their nests, nervous and riled, all running, squawking and pecking. Feathers flew and eggs broke right and left.
Amidst this chaos the rooster strutted in from outside, his feathers puffed out. Well aware that someone was causing considerable distress to his hens, he crowed menacingly and went for Jack, screaming a battle cry.
Bryan latched the gate to the goat pen securely and collected the empty buckets from the calves, hoping Nathan had finished with the eggs because he was starving.
There was silence for the most part around the chicken coop and Bryan approached with some amount of trepidation.
"Nathan?" he called, uncertainly.
Jack strolled out of the building, the dimness of the settling dusk hiding his features.
"Everything all right?" The boy held his lantern up higher and Jack met his gaze with one of utter annoyance.
He was covered from head to toe with feathers and straw. Chicken droppings were smattered all over his clothes, mixed with egg yolk and spatters of blood.
Bryan was speechless.
Jack examined his arms and attempted brushing them off, with a few "ptu, ptus" to dislodge inhaled feathers added in for good measure. He examined one of his boots and took note of the clumps of straw and chicken manure plastered to the bottoms.
"Everything's just fine, mate," Jack said slapping on his characteristic grin. "Here." He tossed an object to Bryan and strode away in the direction of the stream.
Bryan caught the object deftly. It was a single egg.
"All right. I'll just…um…clean up around here…" Bryan said to Jack's retreating back.
"You do that, mate," Jack called back.
Bryan slowly opened the door to the coop and peered in, raising his lantern.
"Oh my…" The rest of his sentence was drowned out by a sudden shriek of tumultuous chicken squawking. Eggs were splatted all over the place and the rooster was pinned to the wall with a dagger.
Bryan stepped back out and closed the door.
"Bryan!" Penny called.
Bryan groaned. "Coming, mother. We're nearly done."
He set off at a trot to the stream.
"Dinner's ready, Nathan."
Jack was scrubbing furiously at his red headscarf. His hair was dripping and his boots were propped upside down against a rock. The pirate didn't answer.
"Say, Nathan, will you be able to handle doing chores by yourself tomorrow morning?"
Jack stopped scrubbing abruptly and pivoted around on his rock to give him a hard look.
"Well, I've got to go to school tomorrow morning and Da usually does them, but he's been really busy at work, so that's why you're here."
Jack just stared at him momentarily in complete disbelief.
"Of course I can," he said at last, returning to his scrubbing.
"Well, if you're sure. Because I suppose Da could stay for a few minutes to help you…"
"No. No, no. That's fine. I'll, um… I'll be fine."
"All right, but you've got to milk all four of the cows…"
"Again?" Jack exclaimed, whirling around once more. "We just milked them!"
"Yes, I know, they have to be milked twice a day."
Jack sighed and wrung out his scarf before scrubbing on it again.
"So you have to milk them dry, then let them out to pasture."
"And give part of the milk to the calves."
"And you have to put the goats into the pasture."
"And…" Bryan lowered his voice. "You have to gather the eggs…if there are any," he added clearing his throat.
"Feed the horses..."
"…and the sheep…"
"…and the pigs."
"You know, just do everything we did tonight, tomorrow morning."
"You got it, lad."
"Um…don't spill the milk. And um…well, don't skewer any more chickens…"
Jack turned around again, grinning for all he was worth before tying his wet, wrinkled and slightly stained headscarf back around his head.
"Sure thing, mate. I can handle it. No problem."
"Well, if you're sure…"
"Come on, lad. Dinner's waiting."
Jack tugged on his wet boots and squelched all the way back to the house.
Penny and James were just sitting down at the table. They both looked up and stared at Jack when he entered.
James cleared his throat. "You know Mr. Cummins, we could have heated water over the stove if you wanted a bath."
"What? Oh! Oh, no. That's quite all right. Er, you know. Cold water's so refreshing and all."
"Merciful heavens what happened to your hands?" Penny asked, catching sight of Jack's chicken-bit and bruised hands.
Jack took an elongated breath, giving himself time to come up with an excuse.
"Blackberries?" they repeated in unison, wondering where on earth the man had found blackberries. He was obviously quite mad.
"Yes, blackberries. I was so very hungry you see and I just reached in without thinking and grabbed meself a handful and got my hands all scraped up in the process."
"Oh," Penny said, her eyes wide. She continued to spoon carrots onto her plate without paying attention to the amount she had already.