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The Parrot and the Pearl

"Mr. Cotton!"

Startled, Cotton faced the Captain, who appeared to be considerably disturbed…even angry. Parrot fluffed, cocking his head warily. Jack eyed the bird, and, to Cotton's dismay, shook an accusing finger at Parrot, who instantly took offense and offered to bite. The finger was stowed, with startled haste.

Summoning cold dignity, Jack said, "Come with me."

The cache was a rich one: coins, jewelry and other shiny gewgaws that had gone missing, all hidden in a niche behind Parrot's second favorite perch.

"Theft among the crew is a serious offense, Mr. Cotton."

Cotton nodded, apologetically.

"Scurvy dog!" growled Parrot.

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-"Greed" from Seven Holy Virtues, Seven Deadly Sins by Geek Mama

o-o-o-o-o-o-o

The finding of Parrot's cache was only the beginning.

"Scurvy dog!" the bird had growled, and Cotton wasn't sure at the time if the bird was referring to its own thieving self or to the Captain, who'd caught him out. Subsequent events bore out the suspicion that it was indeed the latter.

Right from the start, Captain Sparrow had been less than enthusiastic about including Parrot among the crew but, thankfully, he tolerated the bird for Cotton's sake. Cotton was not a lettered man and for many years after he'd lost his tongue to that heathen devil, Sultan Al-Jady, communication had been an onerous and inexact chore. Then Parrot had come into his life, by means of a lucky throw at Hazard. The bird immediately displayed his astonishing ability to anticipate and voice what Cotton wished to say. These utterances were somewhat cryptic, but Cotton's associates found it quite diverting to decipher the salty phrases. Then, too, Parrot proved to be good company, taking to Cotton straight off in spite of the old man's silence. Or maybe because of it.

He'd been lucky his tongue was all he'd lost during his sojourn with the Sultan. There'd been a couple of lads who'd not been as fortunate, and had gone on to serve in the Sultan's harem after being relieved of some pertinent and very personal accoutrements. Cotton still shuddered at the thought. He himself, after finally escaping back to the Land of the Infidel, found that the ladies could be persuaded to disregard his own loss: words were of secondary importance, and certainly not a necessity, when indulging in friendly relations. The loss of other assets would have been quite a different matter.

He'd been younger, then, of course, and such activities had been more of an imperative. Now, although there was a cozy little house in the hills above Tortuga where he was sure of a welcome when in port, he was mostly content just to have work, and to observe and be entertained by those around him. He'd been between ships when Gibbs had come 'round to offer him a place on the pretty sloop Captain Jack Sparrow had acquired from the British.

The Captain, who was now actually entitled to the honorific, had always seemed an odd duck. Cotton had noted him, swaying and mincing about town, fey and fair (no getting around that, really), and seemingly a bit too full of himself. But after joining Jack's crew and taking part in the Aztec Gold Adventure, Cotton determined that the man's vanity was quite justified by his abilities. Captain Jack Sparrow was one of the finest men Cotton had ever served under-maybe the finest. The swaying gait that had seemed such an affectation was eminently suited to the motion of a ship; he was a dab hand at navigation; he was capable, courageous and cunning, and as ready to laugh as to bark an order, especially after he'd regained his beloved Black Pearl. Cotton had rarely been more entertained by anyone in his life.

Parrot, to his master's dismay, did not agree.

After Parrot's cache was found, Cotton was ordered to keep a closer eye on the bird and the stolen treasures were returned to their rightful owners. Parrot seemed very much put out by the loss of his booty and quite obviously blamed the Captain, continuing to mutter what sounded like obscene imprecations whenever Jack happened to come within hearing. If Jack's attention was drawn by this and he happened to fix the bird with a dark glare, Parrot would blatantly snap, "Scurvy dog!" or "Bilge rat!" or some other derogatory epithet. Though Jack never deigned to reply, it was easy enough to see he was annoyed. This, however, was as likely due to the crew's surreptitious laughter as it was to Parrot's insults.

Unfortunately, there was worse to come.

One fair day, the Black Pearl and her bonny crew and madly brilliant (or brilliantly mad) Captain had the good fortune to take a fat little French merchant vessel, Fleur de Lyons. Not only was there considerable gold aboard, both specie and bauble, but there were passengers, one of whom seemed of a size with Jack. Accordingly the Captain relieved this individual of a chest of the latest fashions, not three months out of Paris, and immediately donned the first item that caught his eye, a wine colored coat of heavy satin with a black velvet collar and ecru lace trim. Entirely unsuitable for the clime, of course, but Jack was never one to care for that and he was quite pleased with the figure he cut as he went about supervising the transfer of the booty to his own ship.

Finally, the raid over, he ordered the crew back to the Pearl, following them by means of a convenient rope. He managed to land with considerable grace and, gaining the quarterdeck, turned to bid la Fleur adieu. But as he raised his hand to issue this final mocking salute, Parrot, ensconced in the rigging above, heeded the call of nature and shat whitely all down the arm and shoulder of the beautiful coat. The crew of la Fleur were plenty close enough to see the disaster, along with Jack's chagrin and fury. Cotton groaned, repeatedly indicating his sorrow as best he could without Parrot's help, for the bird was quite unrepentant. Jack commenced making wistful remarks about the beneficial efficacy of Parrot Stew.

And then there was the Incident of the Gold Ring.

It was a fine, rather heavy one that Jack had claimed from the French swag. Ordinarily he would have put the thing through his ear, except his ears already had a couple of rings apiece at that time. It was Anamaria who suggested an alternate location: a piercing through Jack's left nipple. Jack likely would've thought twice about this, but he and the crew had been having a little al fresco entertainment on a nearby island, and were all pretty 'well to live', as the saying goes. Ana said she'd do it, her teeth a-gleam in the firelight, and, when Jack hesitated, egged him on by accusing him of being lily-livered. He rose to this bait, muzzily indignant, and finally agreed to the procedure with somewhat belligerent enthusiasm. In the event, even as drunk as he was, you could see it hurt like blazes, and he was quite pale under his tan by the time Ana got the ring threaded through the hole she'd poked through him. However, once he'd recovered some, he found he did like the rakish look of it, and another half bottle of rum made the pain a thing of no consequence.

The wound proved slow to heal, though, going a bit septic over the next few days. Jack knew something must be done or he'd have to remove the ring, and as he didn't want the situation generally known he asked Cotton to help him, trusting the old man's silence and natural discretion. Cotton, accompanied as usual by Parrot, would follow Jack into his cabin and carefully clean the inflamed area and douse it thoroughly with rum while Jack hissed through clenched teeth and debated whether it was all worth it. As it finally began to heal properly, he conceded it was: a beautifully strange adornment to his bronzed chest.

Parrot thought so too. Every day the bird had watched as Cotton tended Jack, maintaining a curious silence, his black eye taking in the beauty and shapeliness of that ring, and liking it more and more. And one day, when the swelling and irritation had subsided and it was presentable enough for Jack to show off, Parrot saw his chance.

Cotton had come to spell Jack, who'd been handling the wheel all morning. It was a warm day, and the Captain had stripped off his coat and vest. Now his shirt joined the lot, and he disposed himself in a quiet corner, right on the black deck, lounging like some exotic cat, to rest and take the sun, as was his habit.

Cotton, absorbed in his task of guiding the ship, barely took note when Parrot hopped down to the deck, and so he was all the more startled when a yelp of pain and a string of profanity sounded behind him. He whipped around and was horrified to observe a tug o' war between Parrot and the Captain, with that shiny gold ring as the prize. Parrot wasn't letting go, and Jack was frantic, trying to prevent the bird from tearing the ring from his still tender flesh. The only thing that saved Jack from a hideous scar, in fact, was the timely intervention of Gibbs, who'd been coming up the steps and, observing that disaster was at hand, quickly took the wheel. Cotton went to the rescue, and induced Parrot to let go, though not without difficulty. Jack, apparently not trusting himself to speak, glared daggers at the bird and at Cotton himself, and took himself off to sulk in his cabin for the remainder of the morning. Later, however, Cotton was informed in no uncertain terms that further avian mischief would not be tolerated: next time it would be the Parrot or the Pearl.

And so it stood, Cotton on tenterhooks, and the Captain doing his best to ignore Parrot's existence, until another fortnight passed and the Portuguese galleon Santa Helena hove into view on the horizon. Jack's wickedest smile appeared, and the Black Pearl, Terror of the Caribbean, gave chase.

It was several hours later when the Pearl was finally ready to engage the Portugee. Jack was in a fell mood, barking orders right and left, and the crew scurried about to do his bidding, The Pearl came alongside at an angle and shots were exchanged, a lucky one from the Pearl taking down the enemy's foremast. Panic set in among the Helena's crew as grapples were thrown, and their ship was caught fast in the Pearl's toils. Jack gave the order to board.

Cotton was posted at the helm during the fracas, an important duty if things were to go awry, but fairly quiet if they did not and so had leisure and a position that enabled him to observe what transpired next. For the taking of the Helena did not go quite as easily as Jack had planned-at least for Jack.

The Captain was one of the first to board the Portugee, and disabled a couple of her crew in short order. Then he found and engaged the Helena's captain, a dark, aristocratic man whose natural expression seemed to be a supercilious sneer. His every movement was indicative of his contempt for the pirate, and Jack, sensing this, used it to his advantage, playing at pretending fear of such a fine gentleman, and all the while pricking and pressing him, seemingly by accident.

Cotton was smiling, and thinking what an amusing devil Jack was, when up from the bowels of the Helena came a nightmare of a brute, sword in hand, ready to rip into anyone foolish enough to come close. The newcomer was half a head taller than Jack, and probably twice his weight, all of it rippling muscle. He looked a bit piratical himself, for he'd thrown off his shirt in the heat and smoke of the gundeck, exposing sun-dark skin adorned with several nice tattoos. He'd a flowing black moustache, and long black hair tied with a leather thong. The hair was coming loose with his efforts, but it was still pulled back enough to reveal the very piratical gold ring that pierced his ear.

The fellow started by swatting away two of the Pearl's men as though they were of no account. Then he weighed in, making his way to where his captain was now close to defeat. Jack noticed him out of the corner of his eye but, if the Portugee captain had not chosen that moment to bow out of the fight in favor of his burly henchman, things would have gone ill. As it was, the brute came on like a hurricane, a snarl on his lips. He hadn't the classical training of either of the captains, but the sheer force of his blows combined with an adequate defense made up for it. The merry, mischievous Captain of the Black Pearl was suddenly fighting for his life, and Cotton gave an inarticulate sound of distress.

And then, to Cotton's horror, Parrot pushed off his shoulder and took to the air. Cotton gave a cry of real panic then, for the bird was headed straight over to the Helena. The old man could only stand watching helplessly as his feathered friend swooped toward the very spot where Jack and his nemesis were having it out. And then Cotton's breath caught: Parrot made a solid landing on the head of Jack's enemy, digging in heavy claws, and flapping and screaming to great effect. The brute screamed, too (as anyone would), and began flailing. Jack had to have been surprised at this unexpected aid, but he showed no hesitation in taking advantage of it, laying into the Portugee with all his remaining strength. In short order the fight was over. The brute fell heavily to the deck, mercifully unconscious for, as Captain Sparrow stood gaping, Parrot gripped the flaccid face of their enemy with his clawed feet and used his great beak to rip the gold ring and a goodly portion of Portugee ear clean away.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o

A few nights later, Cotton and Parrot were again at the wheel of the Black Pearl. The moon was at the full and lay on the water like a golden path. All was quiet, most of the crew having finally retired to cot or hammock, and Cotton was enjoying the solitude of the wee hours. Presently, however, booted footsteps were heard and his solitude was interrupted by the Captain himself.

"All's well, Mr. Cotton?" asked Jack, as he approached.

"Pieces of Eight!" said Parrot.

"Good," said Jack.

Cotton smiled.

Then Jack reached into his pocket, casual-like, drew out an object and offered it to Parrot. The bird took it with surprising care. Using beak and claw, Parrot cracked the object, letting the shell drop to the deck, and began to eat. Cotton's brows rose in surprised (and amused) enquiry.

Jack cleared his throat some. "Brazil nuts. From the Helena. Don't fancy 'em meself."

Cotton nodded, and managed not to chuckle. It was a near thing, though.