Disclaimer: The characters, settings and plots from Pirates of the Caribbean do not belong to me. They belong to the good people at Disney as far as I know. This story is not making money, it's just for fun :D.
A/N: Welcome to my POTC story! I hope you're sitting comfortably and are ready to begin this adventure...
Ok, first chapters...always tricky....let me know what you think. Have fun!
Chapter 1: The Conqueror
Sylvia stood on the deck of her father's ship 'the Conqueror'. Its sails were billowing in the slight wind. The same wind ruffled the skirt of Sylvia's soft blue-grey dress. She leant on the wooden rail of the ship and closed her eyes so the breeze could kiss her face. She took a deep breath of the salty air and she knew she was home. The Conqueror was in port now. It was one of the biggest ships moored; the only one that rivalled it was the one that had intrigued Sylvia as soon as she had set eyes on it. It was moored away from all the other boats; it seemed as if no one dared to get too close. The ship itself was black as night and Sylvia imagined it would be as good as invisible once the sun had set. Its black sails lay eerily still despite the sea breeze and, most interesting of all in Sylvia's opinion, it had a black flag right at the top of its tallest mast. A black flag emblazoned with a white skull and two crossed bones; the unmistakeable mark of a pirate vessel. Sylvia watched the black ship bobbing gently in the deep water until she heard her father's footsteps behind her. She turned round smiling.
"Ah Sylvia," he said holding out his arms, "My precious daughter, do you like it here?" Sylvia went to him and allowed herself to be embraced.
"Oh yes," she said, "It looks like a most interesting place."
"I'm glad," said her father, "Our stay here might be several months long to allow for maintenance of the ship and a well earned break for the crew."
"Why, that's perfect," said Sylvia happily, "I'll have plenty of time to explore."
"You were always easy for me to please," said her father giving his daughter another hug. Sylvia's father, Lord Andrew Ryecroft, was a kind and compassionate man which meant he was much liked by his family and crew alike. His crew were loyal and trustworthy and Sylvia doubted whether she could have felt safer anywhere on earth.
It was at the age of twelve when Sylvia decided to remain with her father onboard his ship rather than stay with her mother, Lady Vanessa Ryecroft, and be brought up as a proper lady in England. In all the years that followed Sylvia had never once regretted that decision. She had been educated at sea using her father's impressive library which was constantly changing as books were bought and traded wherever they stopped. Reading, writing and numbers she had been taught by her father and by George, her father's first mate. But these skills were not the ones she valued most nor was she particularly good at the parts that did not interest her. Numbers really confused her and she infuriated her mother no end when she returned to England with news that her basic mathematical skills had worsened rather than improved every time she had been away. But she had been taught how to read the stories written in the night sky. She learnt about natural history by talking to local people whenever they came to port. She knew the names of all the sea birds that they saw and all the fish that they caught and she could sing every galley song there was. That was real knowledge; she didn't need to be boarded at a school in England to learn that. Besides, who would choose to stay indoors when there was a whole wide world to see and explore?
Staring out at the horizon now Sylvia knew she would miss the sea too much if it was taken away from her. It was so beautiful and so alive. At the moment the sun was setting and the sea was turning from deep blue to inky black highlighted with gold. There were small ripples gently lapping against the sides of all the boats. Sylvia and her father watched the peaceful scene together. Sylvia found her gaze continually returning to the skeletal black ship which began to melt into the darkening sky.
"What are you looking at Sylvia?" asked Lord Ryecroft curiously, "Have you seen a bird of some kind?"
"No," said Sylvia, "I was looking at that great ship out there, the one that lies almost deliberately away from all the others. Even the seagulls seem to be avoiding it." Lord Ryecroft looked over but seemed reluctant to keep his eyes on said ship for too long.
"That is an evil ship," he said in a low voice. He tried to lead Sylvia away but she pulled out of his grasp.
"Why is it evil?" she asked, "Surely a ship itself can be no more evil than it can be good." Lord Ryecroft considered his answer for a moment, his daughter was extremely inquisitive and her search for answers was always thorough and comprehensive. Better tell her what she wanted to know himself than find out she had learnt it all from someone else.
"It is a pirate ship Sylvia," said Lord Ryecroft.
"Well yes," said Sylvia, "I did not fail to notice the flag."
"You needn't look so excited," said Lord Ryecroft with a note of alarm.
"I'm not excited," corrected Sylvia, "I'm interested."
"Not scared?" Lord Ryecroft asked. There was a pause.
"No," she answered finally, "No, not scared." They were silent for a moment watching the black ship as it became harder and harder to pick out against the sky.
"So, there are pirates on shore?" Sylvia asked.
"Oh don't worry," said Lord Ryecroft, "They won't be on our side of the island my dear." He took her by the arm and led her into the depths of the ship. Sylvia turned at the doorway; the pirate ship had completely disappeared.
The noise was deafening as usual, it was the usual rowdy crowd. Roars of laughter filled the air as did the clink of tankards against each other. A great deal of liquid was now all over the floor. It was always the same in the Lamb's Heart. In the centre of the pub a large crowd had gathered around a small table. Two men were sitting, their elbows resting on the wood and their hands locked together. The crowd cheered, their drinks spilling over each other as they got too excited. The two men in competition with each other had intense looks of concentration on their faces as they each tried to make the other man's arm lie flat on the table. Finally there was an almighty uproar as one of the men's arms hit the table sending several drinks onto the floor. The winner stood up drink in hand and bowed low. His black hair, adorned with beads, fell in front of his face. When he stood up straight again the candlelight shone upon his face. His skin was coloured, bronzed by the sun and weathered by the elements. His forehead was adorned with a dark red bandana which was also adorned with a line of beads and coins. He had a dark moustache and a beard which was separated into thin plaits. His nose had a dark stain on one side which looked to be oil or something of similar consistency. But the crowning glory of the man's face was his eyes. Rimmed by kohl they were as dark as the night, and they shone with the same spectacular glory as the full moon and glittered like a million stars. They had a depth to them that seemed to stretch on forever, so that when you looked into them you felt you were swimming in liquid darkness. But no one around the man that night was in a fit state to see anything beyond their next tankard. Several drinks were pressed upon him as he was the winner but he declined them with his hands pressed together close to his chest. He drained his own drink and made his way through the drunken mass to the world beyond.
His boots clicked on the wooden jetty. He breathed in the cool night air which helped to clear his head. He reached the end of the wooden platform and sat down his legs hanging off the edge. He looked into the dark water, and by the reflection of the moon on its surface he saw himself. He flicked one of his rows of beads out of his face and looked at his image. He was looking at Jack Sparrow, Captain of the Black Pearl. He sat upright and smiled. Life had certainly taken a turn for the better, about time too. As he took in another deep breath of sea air he caught sight of a large ship, large enough indeed to rival his own. It must have arrived shortly before nightfall; it certainly had not been there when he had entered the Lamb's Heart. He would have to get a good look at it when morning came. Jack got to his feet, yawned and took one final look out at his beloved sea. He thought he saw someone on the deck of the large ship but it was too far away and too dark to know for sure.
Sylvia, dressed today in a delicate sugar pink dress with long sleeves and a deep heart shaped neckline, stepped ashore for the first time in this beautiful place. She had quite a guard of honour. Three maids accompanied her, talking non stop as was usual for them, then there were six crew members who had been more than willing to accompany Sylvia on her first outing and then there were the ten or so local soldiers who had been paid handsomely by Lord Ryecroft to keep Sylvia safe. Sylvia put up with this group patiently. She knew her father would lessen the level of protection once he had decided the area was safe enough. At the moment though Sylvia was having to snatch glances at things of interest unable to explore at will as the group seemed to have a momentum all of its own. The local people on the other hand were able to get a good look at the newcomers. A ship as splendid as the Conqueror was a rare sight and it was even rarer to have a ship of such status make berth for such an extended period in this area. Many people were watching the group pass from doorways or from first floor windows. From a dark alleyway someone else watched the procession as it was fast becoming. He had been on his way to have a good look at the new ship but when he had heard that some of its occupants were approaching he had ducked into the shadows to observe. He didn't see much. A lot of the red and white uniform of the local soldiers and the flash of a pink dress, nothing interesting. Jack waited until they had passed before taking advantage of the town's preoccupation and heading down to the dock.
The table was all set for dinner aboard the Conqueror. Sylvia and her father were eating alone tonight as they did at least twice a week. Lord Ryecroft sampled the wine delicately. He offered it to Sylvia but she declined preferring instead to pour herself a glass of water.
"So, did you enjoy your first adventure here?" Lord Ryecroft asked with a smile.
"I can't say I had much opportunity for enjoyment," said Sylvia honestly, "I could barely see anything beyond my consort, but it does seem like a most pleasant place to spend a few months."
"I'm glad to hear you say that," said Lord Ryecroft, "I am sure we will be able to trust the local people enough to let you travel with just your maids soon." Sylvia forced a smile. She wanted to explore alone. She wanted to wander along the beaches as the sun warmed the sand on its climb into the sky. She wanted to see the "other side of town" and she wanted to take a closer look at that great black ship. She did not say these thoughts out loud; there was no point in upsetting her father like that.
Lord Ryecroft, with his arm linked around his daughter's, walked up onto the deck which was once again bathed in moonlight. Sylvia shivered.
"Should we return inside?" asked Lord Ryecroft, "I don't want you getting cold."
"Oh, I'm not cold," said Sylvia, "I just got a tingle down my spine." She looked across the water and to her surprise there was a light on in one of the port holes on the side of the pirate ship.
"There must be a pirate on board," she said almost to herself.
"Let us hope they are planning to set sail," said Lord Ryecroft his expression grim. He knew he would be much more willing to allow his daughter the freedom she desired if the pirates had left. Sylvia on the other hand was too fascinated by the ship to want it to leave so soon.
It was a clear night, incredibly peaceful. The boats and ships barely moved on the surface of the ocean. Their sails were safely tucked away but even if they had been fully unfurled there was no wind to catch them. It was possible to listen and hear the slight splash as an otter slid into the water. Birds were mostly roosting now but the calls of the few that were still active carried far in every direction. Sylvia heard them all. Her father had retired for the night but she was lying on her back on deck looking up at the thousands of stars. It was a cool night but Sylvia did not want to go inside. Her dark hair was loose over the wood, her many hair clips lay scattered all around. The stars were reflected in her hazel eyes and the moon was making her delicate milky skin glow softly. She did not think she was beautiful, in truth she had never really thought about it. When she walked in the various towns and coastal villages people did stare at her but she presumed new arrivals always generated interest particularly if they were rich like her family was. The only time Sylvia was forced to think about her appearance was on their stays in England. They usually went to England every few months; it depended on what Lord Ryecroft had been asked to do and where they were. The ship would be restocked and they would visit Lady Ryecroft in the impressive Ryecroft estate that was mercifully situated on top of a cliff. In Sylvia's opinion the view of the sea from her bedroom window was the mansion's saving grace. Apart from being able to watch the waves whipped up by an offshore storm Sylvia found the visits tiresome and difficult. She never seemed to do what her mother expected of her and was constantly corrected and reprimanded.
Sylvia found it very hard to see herself in her mother. The only thing they seemed to have in common was their love for Lord Ryecroft. All in all Sylvia was always immeasurably glad when she was waving goodbye to her mother and heading back out to sea even though she knew her mother wanted more than anything for her to stay in England and be educated as a proper lady. No, that just wasn't what Sylvia wanted and she was very grateful that her father had allowed her to live the life she loved. She got stiffly to her feet, said goodbye to the night and went to her cabin leaving her hair clips betraying where she had lain for over an hour.
Every day for the next week the sun burnt brightly in a cloudless sky and despite her father's wish the pirate ship remained anchored firmly in port. Sylvia explored under the sun's glorious gaze. She was still accompanied by what seemed like a small army but she soon found it easier to ignore them. Betty, Milly and Lotte, her maids, tried to dissuade her from clamouring amongst the rock pools but Sylvia did not mind tearing her beautiful dresses and if she found it difficult to negotiate the rocks in her delicate shoes then she merely threw them aside. She found tiny crabs with shells of the lightest powder blue and she found a catfish that must have got stranded in a deep pool when the tide retracted too fast for it to react. Every night when she got in she would recount what she had seen to her father over dinner.
"I would be able to get to the deeper rockpools if only I weren't trapped in my heavy dresses," said Sylvia. She looked longingly at the shirts and trousers worn by the male crew members.
"But they look so wonderful," said Lord Ryecroft.
"I don't want to look wonderful!" cried Sylvia, "I want to be free like men are." Lord Ryecroft said nothing, he wanted dearly to give Sylvia what she wanted for he believed women had every right to be rid of their troublesome clothes if that's what they wanted but he was afraid of Lady Ryecroft's reaction. She already hated having her daughter 'running wild at sea with no sense of what a proper English lady should be doing.' Lord Ryecroft was always inundated with orders from Lady Vanessa every time they met in England. If she learnt her daughter had been seen wearing the sort of clothes that normally befits a man, well, for a start there would be no hearing the end of it and Sylvia would certainly be enlisted without hesitation at the best finishing school in England.
"Your mother would have a lot to say on the subject," Lord Ryecroft said at last.
"Oh, I daresay she would," said Sylvia rudely, "But I don't care about what an English lady should do, I don't want to be locked away from everything like a bird in a cage."
"And nor should you be," said Lord Ryecroft. Sylvia suddenly found she wasn't hungry. She put her cutlery down, pushed out her chair and left the table. She headed straight for the lower deck. When she reached the end she felt tears in her eyes. She told herself not to be stupid but the tears of frustration refused stubbornly to go away. She thought of all the things she had and told herself how lucky she was to have so much freedom. She felt selfish for still wanting more.
She was just telling herself to grow up when something caught her eye. It was still light, being early evening, and Sylvia thought she could see someone standing on the deck of the black pirate ship but the next moment Sylvia found she couldn't see anything so she reluctantly accepted that she had imagined it.
"Is everything alright?" Sylvia turned round and saw Trevor, the ship's head cook and a veritable fountain of knowledge.
"I heard you didn't finish your dinner, didn't you like it?" he asked.
"Oh yes!" said Sylvia, "It wasn't the dinner at all." Trevor smiled.
"I was only teasing you miss," he said, "I came out to see if I could do anything to cheer you up. Perhaps I could fix you one of those toffee apples you like so much."
"Oh no Trevor," said Sylvia, "I am quite alright." But Trevor noticed the sadness in the young woman's eyes.
"Is there something troubling you?" he asked, "Something you want to know perhaps?" Sylvia looked at him for a moment then decided to go for it.
"What is the name of that pirate ship?" she asked looking over at it. Trevor looked at it too.
"Ah," he said, "Why, that's the Black Pearl. Fastest ship in all the seas or so it's said."
"Faster than the Conqueror?" Sylvia asked who had for a long time believed her father's ship to be superior in every sense to any other existing vessel.
"Oh yes," said Trevor, "It is said that the Pearl can be upon you so fast that it is like being overtaken by a shadow."
"And when they catch another ship?" asked Sylvia, "What do they do?"
"They are pirates," said Trevor in a dramatic whisper, "Of the most fearful sort. It's said they leave nothing behind so it seems like the other ship simply disappeared." Sylvia stared with wide eyes at the black ship. Trevor mistook her look for fear.
"No need to worry miss," he said reassuringly, "There are no pirates brave enough to take on the Conqueror."
"But you said the Black Pearl was faster," said Sylvia, "And a pirate ship must surely be better armed than we are." Trevor looked a little awkward for a moment.
"Pirates attack best in open water," he said quickly, "There is no danger now we're in port."
"So they could wait for us a little way out to sea and then..." Sylvia's voice was cut off by her father's.
"Now, now," he said, "I hope you're not scaring my daughter with fictitious stories about pirates."
"I'm not scared," said Sylvia at once.
"I was only telling her what I heard sir," said Trevor, "That's all."
"It's alright," said Lord Ryecroft gently. Trevor looked relieved; he excused himself and went back to the kitchens to supervise cleaning up.
"What did he tell you?" Lord Ryecroft asked.
"Oh, just what he'd heard from the locals in the bar I expect," said Sylvia, "I wonder if any of it was true. Perhaps the ship is not called the Black Pearl at all." She had not expected her father to answer.
"Yes, it's true," he said quietly. Sylvia looked up at him in amazement.
"How on earth do you know?" she asked. This was quite different from hearing Trevor's tales. Lord Ryecroft looked away from the Black Pearl and into his daughter's eyes. Her fascination with the pirate ship disturbed him.
"The Black Pearl is well known. It regularly haunts the Caribbean, sailors warn of its danger. No captain who sails these waters has not heard of the Black Pearl."
"So is it true that the Black Pearl is faster even than our ship?" Sylvia asked.
"That is what they say, I would not know how much is true," replied Lord Ryecroft.
"Wow," said Sylvia softly, "I would love to look around it." Lord Ryecroft looked suddenly alarmed. Sylvia quickly recovered herself.
"I just mean it must be fascinating inside," she said, "Don't you feel even slightly curious?"
"Not curious enough to risk coming face to face with the deadliest pirates in the Caribbean," Lord Ryecroft said firmly, "They are bad men Sylvia, the worst."
"When they attack ships," Sylvia said delicately, "Do they..?"
"Pirates do not take captives unless they can profit from them," said Lord Ryecroft, "Please don't get any fancy notions Sylvia. These are men who would slit their own brother's throat for less than a piece of gold. They are to be avoided at all costs."
"Yes father," said Sylvia sensing she had got all she could out of her father tonight. She did not mention the Black Pearl at all for the next week but it drew her eyes whenever she looked out to sea. At night it called to her from her dreams and she would see the burning wreckages of the ships it had crossed. When she woke she was torn between fascination and disgust, fear did not come into it.