Crossing the Bar: Ambush

By Honorat

Rating: K+

Characters: Commodore Norrington, Mr. Gibbs, Jack Sparrow, Anamaria
Pairing: Eventually a very light Jack/Anamaria
Disclaimer: The characters of PotC! She's taken them! Get after her, you feckless pack of ingrates!

Summary: Every once in awhile, I have to write some raving sailing. Norrington has finally got the Black Pearl trapped. Jack is bound to do something crazy, but will it be the last thing he does? Supposedly for the "Bar" challenge at Black Pearl Sails, but this ain't no drabble, pilgrim!

Thanks to geekmama2 for the beta help.

1 Ambush

His informant had not lied. Through the grey veil of rain stinging his eyes, Commodore Norrington focused his spyglass on the sheltered harbour. Months of fruitless searching, chasing wild rumours and even wilder truths, had led him to this place. There, enfolded in the verdant arms of the headlands, safe from the storm that pummeled the Royal Navy ships out on the open ocean, rocked a shadowy vessel, her bare poles slender brush strokes against the restless grey-green water and white froth.

Even without her signature black sails, Norrington recognized the lines of the ship that had haunted his waking hours and not a few of his sleeping ones for far too long.

The Black Pearl.

He'd chased her up and down the Caribbean in vain, following reports of pirate activity over the entire Spanish Main. But while his ships had brought in a number of prizes in that frenzy of pirate hunting, this last, greatest threat had remained at large and largely unsighted.

Finally, he'd decided that he would never chase down Jack Sparrow. His only recourse was to somehow let the man come to him. He had to chart Sparrow's known haunts, find the key to that pirate's mind, learn his habits. Every man eventually fell into a predictable pattern, but Sparrow was less predictable than most. Late into the nights, the commodore had sifted through his information—official dispatches, scraps of wrinkled paper covered with strange stains, neatly-folded letters. The trail had eventually led him here to this secret harbour where the Black Pearl had been spotted several times.

The Dauntless and her smaller sister, the brig Defender, had been lurking out of sight of this harbour for months now. His men had been growing increasingly restless and his ships increasingly spit and polished. But at last all that not-so-patient waiting was paying off in Spanish gold. On the wings of a storm, his prey had dashed across the bar into that harbour where Sparrow no doubt planned to wait until the weather cleared. By the time Norrington had his ships in position to block the escape route, the wind had risen severely and the ebb tide was making it impossible for him to pursue the Black Pearl through the channel. The naval vessels would have to endure the full wrath of the storm out on the open sea. To attempt to make harbour now would be suicidal.

While his ships fought to maintain their positions relative to that harbour mouth, Norrington had the leisure for strategy. He'd not had much opportunity to engage Jack Sparrow in pitched battle, so he was not sure whether the pirate would prefer to take on a first rate ship of the line and a more agile pirate-hunter in a fight to the death, or whether he would rather surrender the Black Pearl than see her destroyed.

Elizabeth and Will Turner had been uncharacteristically close-mouthed about their time spent with the infamous pirate. The one time he'd attempted to presume on old friendship and gather any useful intelligence about Sparrow, Elizabeth had brought up her indomitable chin, narrowed her dark eyes, and with a North Sea chill in her haughty tone, informed him, "That is unworthy of you, James."

So he had nothing to go on but stories—rumours picked up by his agents in notorious pirate ports, garbled accounts from shipmasters who'd run afoul of that pestilential black ship—and the few encounters his ships had managed with the elusive pirate.

He knew Sparrow preferred not to fight. With the fastest ship in the Caribbean, Norrington grudgingly admitted, he hadn't been forced to do more than snarl a few shots with his stern chasers as he wheeled his ship onto the wind and left his adversaries in his wake. But now they had the sparrow caged, trapped, imprisoned in this harbour. When the wind finally stood down and the tide turned, the Dauntless and the Defender would cross that bar and bring all their immense firepower against Jack Sparrow's beautiful ship. He hoped the pirate would be a sensible man and surrender. However, limited experience did not lead him to expect common sense from that maniac. When Norrington's ships pinned the Black Pearl up against that shoreline, the commodore very much feared she would turn like a tiger brought to bay, and the combat would become very ugly before its inevitable conclusion.

Mr. Gibbs was grumblingly reflecting to himself that Anamaria never drew the short straw for watches during foul weather. Let the day or night be clear as an infant's conscience, and it was "take your worthless hide off to the racks, Gibbs," and that infuriating woman would settle herself on the Pearl's sunny or starry deck, watching the dolphins frolic beside the ship, putting the occasional mental thumbscrew on a green hand, or lashing the lot of them with that cat o'nine tails she called her tongue, and in general enjoying herself mightily. But let the black clouds boil up on the horizon and the rain come down like the influenza and the pestilential torrents of water run down one's neck like rats, and the ship be pitching like to tip them all off into the drink, and it was "your watch, Mr. Gibbs! I'm going belowdecks."

There was something unnatural about it. He wouldn't put it past the little harpy to be practicing a spot of voodoo on the side. He wondered if the captain would listen to a word he said if he complained. Hunched under the scant shelter provided by the companionway, Gibbs took a hasty pull at his flask. Women! He also wouldn't put it past her to water the rum. She was always grousing about a boatload of drunken pirates.

Jack was a madman to keep her on as mate. But wasn't calling Jack crazy entirely redundant? He'd known the man was daft from the day they'd met. Hadn't stopped Gibbs then, and wasn't stopping him now. Worth hanging around just to see what would happen next. Never a dull day around the captain. Gibbs took another swallow for insurance. Man needed a little internal heat on a bloody miserable day like this.

A call from high up the mainmast brought his attention back to the ship and his duty.

"Sail ho!"

Now there was a poor sod with even worse luck than Gibbs', stuck up there in this frightful weather keeping the real watch. Hunching his shoulders against the deluge, Gibbs staggered out on the pitching deck. Probably only some poor merchant trying to make port before the storm swamped it. But it was too late to enter this harbour, that was for sure.

"Can ye identify her!" he shouted through the Pearl's vociferous creaks and groans as she consigned the weather to perdition.

"Two of 'em," the faint voice floated back down through the wind's equally profane shrieks in the rigging. "A real monster of a ship and a two-masted brig. Both under storm canvas. Can't make out their colours in this soup."

"What headings?" Gibbs hollered hoarsely.

"They're in formation," the wretched lookout coughed. "Coming in from the southwest—around the headland"

Two ships in formation. Gibbs didn't like the sound of that. No, he didn't like that at all.

"Good eye, lad!" he called. "Keep watching. I'll inform the captain." And informing the captain would give him a moment out of these thrice-blasted elements.

When he pounded on the cabin door, he heard Jack's careless, "'S open." It always made him grateful to have made it out of the Navy alive. Jack could skin a man down to his bare bones with words, but he never looked down on his crew like they were animals.

He opened the door on a familiar sight. The dark mahogany, richly-carved, glowed in the flickering light of lanterns and candles. Jack was relaxed in an ornate, over-stuffed, high-back chair, looking gaudily piratical, with his boots kicked up on the table top, except for the fact that he was reading a rather decrepit, rat-chewed tome Gibbs recognized as part of the plunder from the sack of Balenbouche. Gibbs had never known a pirate who looted books with the same greed he pilfered gold. He didn't know how the man could stand to read the way the Pearl was wallowing about in the storm swells, but Jack never seemed to note how his ship rolled.

Anamaria, the underhanded little weasel, was warm and dry and practicing her writing at the other end of the table, her tongue clamped between her teeth, her brow wrinkled in the ferocious scowl she usually reserved for incompetent lubbers who'd fouled the Pearl's lines. Every time the Pearl gave an especially violent twitch, she'd cuss the air blue. As usual, she'd unconsciously decorated her face with various black smudges. Another of the captain's mad starts—teaching that fisherman's wench to read and write. As though she weren't uppity enough as it was.

"What is it, Mr. Gibbs?" the captain waved expansively.

"Sails, sir," Gibbs reported tersely. "Two of 'em from the southwest around the headlands. I don't like the smell of this at all."

Anamaria looked up at this, her eyes gone even darker and more intent. Her forgotten quill bled a puddle of ink on the creamy paper in the middle of the word "topgalla . . ."

"I see," Captain Sparrow said, his tone still leisurely, but his eyes, too, had gone hard and calculating. "Well then, I suppose I'd best hop up top and take a look, eh?"

"If you would, sir," Gibbs agreed heartily. "It'd ease my mind a bit."

Jack bounced to his feet in that way that always made Gibbs feel about a hundred years old and achy in his bones, shrugged into his jacket, crammed his hat on his head—lopsided this time—the angle of Jack Sparrow's hat was always an indicator of just how tense the man was, Gibbs had discovered—and joined his quartermaster at the door. "Lead on, Mr. Gibbs," Jack invited.

Bracing himself against the drill of raindrops that met his undefended face when the door swung open, Gibbs reluctantly headed back out into the vile weather. Jack followed him, as usual seeming annoyingly impervious to the worst the elements could throw at him. Anamaria brought up the rear, refusing to be left out of any incipient action.

At the base of the mainmast, Gibbs shouted up at the lookout, "Any changes, lad?"

"Bad news, sir," came the reply. "Them there ships are Royal Navy, and one of 'em's totin' no less than a hunnert guns!"

The instant Captain Jack Sparrow heard the report from the lookout that one of the ships slipping out of the shadow of the island was a first rate Navy man o'war, he recognized the ambush.

While from a purely aesthetic standpoint, he could admire Commodore Norrington's masterful check and mate in this deadly game they played, from every other angle, the situation was intolerable. He knew what Norrington expected. Jack would be forced to remain in this harbour like a fish in a net until the weather cleared enough for either the Black Pearl or the Navy ships to dare the bar at its mouth. Either way, the Pearl would find the Dauntless and her utterly deadly curtain of fire barring the only escape route. The second, faster ship complicated matters further, decreasing Jack's options to the singularly unappealing.

For the first time, Jack Sparrow was seriously having to consider whether he would surrender his ship to the Royal Navy. His other choice was to invite the destruction of his ship and crew by returning fire and doing as much damage to two Navy warships as he could before the Pearl was scuppered. Either option made him heartsick in a way he'd thought he'd forgotten.

They had, Jack gauged, several hours before the tide began its reverse and Norrington might consider it worth the risk to cross the bar in such heavy weather. There was a brief, golden moment now for him to make his decision. And plenty of time to worry whether it had been the right one.

Without a word, he turned and headed for the bow of the Black Pearl, leaving Gibbs and Anamaria behind, staring at each other in sober surmise at his unprecedented silence.

Jack needed to talk to his ship.