Disclaimer: This story was written for entertainment only and I am making no profit from it. "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the characters within belong to Disney; I am only borrowing them and no harm is intended with this story. Please do not post elsewhere without permission from the author.
Jack Sparrow sank to his knees in the pile of plunder and pushed aside a hideous urn, heedless that it bounced all the way down the heap and clanged into a pool of damp.
Whilst in the midst of that little hurley-burley with Barbossa, he thought he'd espied... Oh, aye! A stash of bars of gold, wafer-thin and of the purest quality. "Come to Jack," he whispered, plucking up one, and then another, and another. What a man could clad his dear love in, with coin like this... He filled a burlap sack as quickly as he could, pausing only to slide two of the bars into slits secreted in the underside of his sword belt.
He tested the weight of the loot-- it threatened to split the dusty burlap, so he tied that sack shut and gave it a push, letting it roll down to the foot of the heap. An especially large shiny coin stamped with a fat cow and a beehive caught his eye and he snatched it up and slipped it inside his shirt cuff.
Just then a faint tremor seemed to shiver up through his knees.
Jack froze; but a split second later he had risen smoothly to his feet, sword drawn. His gaze went automatically to the dias in the center of the cavern.
The stone chest stood undisturbed.
Not one of the crew was within 50 paces of it. And in fact, not a one of them had paused in the salvaging. Jack turned an uneasy gaze slowly 'round the grotto, but nothing looked amiss. It appeared no one else had felt anything, either.
"Aye... well. Bit of overheated imagination, there." Jack sheathed his sword in a show of bravado. His hand lingered at the hilt, but there was no further disturbance, so he pulled another sack from his belt and crouched down to fill it.
He burrowed through the mound of swag, tossing aside a heavy plate samovar and an inlaid hookah in his quest to ferret out every last pure gold bar. The top layer loosened, quivered... and then it sluiced downward, carrying along Jack for a good ten feet. He grabbed the back of a gilt and velvet chair to stem his descent. A polished ebony chest slid out from underneath its legs and caught his eye. Boots braced on the unstable heap once more, Jack raised the lid.
On the black velvet lining lay a necklace of large pearls, glowing like dozens of moons strung together. A pendant hung from the pearl strand-- a huge drop-shaped ruby, rich as blood. Smaller teardrops of diamonds sparkled on the setting.
It was a necklace not unlike any one of a hundred others in the cavern; it wasn't even the richest or most ornate. Yet something about it stirred Jack's heart like none of the other baubles. He couldn't take his eyes from it.
With one finger, he stroked the length of gleaming pearls, feeling them tick-tick-tick beneath his rough fingertip all the way to the clasp at the top. He lifted the necklace from its velvet bed, letting the jewel case fall unheeded, and held the strand up to the torchlight. Turning it from side to side lit the ruby with a liquid sheen.
There was only one long slender neck Jack Sparrow could picture this necklace adorning. By rights he should never let the thought enter his mind. But he didn't even need to close his eyes to imagine the effect of the moon-pale pearls on sun-kissed skin, to see the pendant hanging precisely in the decolletage between two small, perfect breasts.
Blood tribute for a bonny pirate queen.
A crying shame said pirate queen had trothed herself to a landlubber lad!
Jack cradled the ruby on his palm, cursing himself for the opportune moment he himself had let slip by in favor of a rum bottle. Good rum it had been, aye, but now the cunning Miss Elizabeth belonged to Dear William.
He contemplated the necklace moodily. T'would take a miracle to lure her back to the buccaneer life, but his blood throbbed with the lunatic notion it were, in fact, possible.
Oddly, the ruby pulsed against his palm in response.
Even as he stared in amazement, Jack realized the truth-- it wasn't the ruby, beating like a small heart of fire. It was the cavern, the Isla de Muerta itself, shuddering beneath his feet.
This time the crew felt it, too. Each froze in mid-motion. "Wh-what... " Moises began.
A shrill, manical scream cut him off. Jack nearly jumped out of his skin. Something hurtled from the shadows near the craggy ceiling, caromed off a pillar of stone, and whizzed past Jack's head. There were yelps and yowls of terror from the crew. Tetch bolted, kicking over a filled keg and sending gold coins pattering down into a pool. The screeching projectile thumped onto Gibbs's back and the large man leapt about, swatting ineffectually over his own shoulders.
It sprang away with another ear-piercing scream, but not before Jack had gotten a glimpse of the thing. Even as it bounced wildly from wall to floor to pillage-peak, Jack drew his pistol, cocked it, and aimed calmly.
The shot cracked through the echoing chamber, silencing his bellowing crew and the frenzied missile in a puff of... fur?
Where the shot had connected, the thing halted in mid-air and dropped to the floor, brown and grey tufts drifting lightly in its wake. The instant it touched down it spun to face Jack, baring tiny sharp teeth and glaring malevolently at him.
"Monkey!" Jack snarled.
It hissed back at him, unharmed but furious. Without taking his eyes off it, Jack tucked away his pistol and drew his sword.
"Blessed Mother, it still be cursed!" gasped Gibbs.
"Nay-- cursed again!" Jack glared at Barbossa's hated pet. "Back to work, lads. If yon foul creature comes near, bash it with something heavy and pop a kettle over it. It won't stop us from... "
The monkey screeched and sprang straight up. An instant later another tremblor rattled the cavern, harder still. Bits of treasure shook loose and clattered to the floor. Still screeching, the monkey took off around the grotto again as if mad with fear.
Marty, arms sheltering his head, peered out and croaked, "What's... happening?"
"Don't know." Hurriedly, Jack began reloading his pistol. "But let's hurry and finish, y' flea-ridden curs."
Before they could finish, another quake rocked the cavern. Rocked the whole island, Jack figured. Water slopped wildly out of the pools, whole mounds of swag avalanched, and even bits of the ceiling and walls pelted fown onto their heads. The monkey had attached itself to Crimp's head, small sharp paws clinging to his hair. It was shrieking in terror.
This was the same creature that had showed no fear of cannon fire, nor of scampering into the bowels of a sinking ship to obediently retrieve Will's medallion. Jack came to an abrupt decision.
"Right, let's be off. Quick-like, but don't forget the booty."
Another long, grinding rumble shook the cave, pitching Jack off his feet and down the treasure heap. He landed on his stomach and was disconcerted to see a long rift split the floor only yards in front of him. Sulphurous steam boiled out.
On hands and knees, he scrabbled frantically for his sacks of gold bars. The Pearl needed them, she did, needed what they would buy to heal Barbossa's damage and neglect. His feverish digging uncovered the pearl and ruby necklace. Jack couldn't bear to cast it aside; he snatched it up and dropped it down his right boot. As soon as he did, he saw the ravelly seams of his burlap sacks.
See, tis a lucky bauble!
Isla de Muerta shook from the very roots of its rocky underpinnings to its barren black peaks. Beneath the screeches of the monkey and the cries of his crew, Jack heard an ominous hissing. He clenched the sacks' necks and rose into a half-crouch, preparing to sprint to the boats.
Before he could take a single step, the last of the torches guttered and went out.
For a second it was black as the inside of an iron cookpot. Then Jack blinked and became aware of an unearthly red glow pouring through the rift splitting the floor and from fissures forming along the cavern walls.
"Tis Hell itself comin' to collect us all," Jack breathed in horror. He commenced a rapid shuffle towards the landing, dragging his filled sacks alongside him. A thin red line chased across the floor, meeting one of the pools of seepage. There was a 'whooshing' sound, and the pool boiled dry in a blink. The red line continued on until it met another fiery split. It joined up and began to widen.
"Bugger," Jack said flatly. He shuffled faster.
The air grew hotter. The next tremor threw Jack off his feet again. He could barely hear the cries of his crew over the rumble of falling rock. A wave of rotten-egg stench made him gag, and he let go of his sacks to reach for the flowing scarf at his waist, intending to wrap it 'round his face. A glance back convinced him to ignore the burning air and get moving again-- an incandescent bubble of hellfire was growing out of the rock. As he watched, a tumble of trinkets slumped into liquid and trickled away in streams of gold.
"Not fair!" Jack cried, seizing his sacks again. "We left your cursed chest alone!" he yelled to the ceiling.
The gods were indifferent. The floor broke into a patchwork of rock hemmed with fire, and Jack stopped, teetering, at the rim of one crevice that had opened at his boot-toes. He saw at a glance the only chance he had of crossing it was before it widened further.
He swung one sack forward and pitched it over, and then, cradling the other to his chest, leaped clumsily across. He landed heavily a heartbeat behind the first sack.
The gold-filled burlap split as it landed, and the bars fanned out across the floor, shimmering, fire-lit. He hesitated, sorely tempted to try and salvage at least a few more. But in the end, self-preservation won out. With a last stricken look at the sweet tempting gold, Jack hustled on.
The rumbling was constant now, and building stronger with each passing moment. Down the pathway he went, ducking roof pieces and chunks of coral. He passed one of the kegs smashed flat beneath a boulder, gold coin leaking around the edges like lifeblood. He needed both hands to trundle his heavy sack however, and so he cursed roundly at the waste and labored onward.
More chaos met him at the landing. One boat had been reduced to splintered boards floating on the agitated waves of the cave lagoon. Gibbs was helping several wet, bleeding men into a second boat, and Marty and Quartetto were in the process of dumping an extremely heavy-looking chest over the transom of a third.
"No! Stop! What are you doing?" Jack yelped, chugging forward with his back bowed double.
They ignored him and the chest went over, disappearing beneath the chop with a sucking 'splooop!". The boat pitched, nearly throwing Marty overboard. Quartetto caught him by the beard-hairs as he flailed, pulling him back from the brink and slinging the smaller man into the bottom of the boat. Then he too dropped down, seized an oar, and began to paddle for the mouth of the cave.
Gibbs had got the boat pointed toward the exit and launched, and now was wading after Marty and Quartetto. His clothing pulled heavily with every step, and with a moan of regret, the seaman finally turned out his pockets. Gold twinkled down and vanished in the dark water.
"Get ye aboard, Cap'n!" Tetch begged. He stood ready to shove off this last of the longboats as soon as Jack boarded. There was a chest on the floor between the thwarts, and young Thatch sat trembling with his feet on it aside the starboard oarlock, his face wrenched with terror. Jack heaved his remaining sack into the boat-- it hit with a splat and a dry ripping sound, and gold bars poured out into the bottom.
No matter. They were in the boat, and that was what counted.
There was a roar from the cavern behind them and Jack had the fleeting thought that a dragon indeed guarded the hoard, and that they had waked him. Then the ground swelled in a broad rippling wave, and the boat dropped from under him and he was falling, and bashing his face, and By Nancy it hurt! The water gushed away out of the cave, and from the mouth came a great flapping and squawking as Cotton's parrot yelped out, "Man overboard! Ahoy and avast! Man overboard!"
The monkey gave a screech that dwindled to a gurgle, and Jack lifted his bleary head to see a wave come sweeping back into the cave, pushing before it Cotton, and one of the boats that hadn't quite cleared the isle, and a bedraggled scrap with fierce button eyes, paddling madly. The monkey caught hold of the boat and made to pull itself aboard, but Terlach walloped it with his oar. Batted to the cave wall, it caught the rough surface with its agile paws and clung for a moment, shaking off the blow and chittering with rage. Then it leapt at Jack.
It landed on his shoulder and dug into the matted hanks of Jack's hair. He swatted vainly at the little beast. "Geroff! Geroff me, y' filthy beggar. Geroff I say!"
His own wild movements knocked him off balance. Jack fell backward into the boat, dislodging the monkey so that it hopped from beam to bow and back again, chiding them in stridant tones. Terlach poled past, making for the cave mouth once more. Casually, he popped the monkey again with his oar, knocking it into the water.
"Row! Row for your lives!"
Terlach paused to fish Cotton up out of the drink, but as the old man sprawled into the boat, it nearly capsized. It was riding too low in the water to make any headway in the terrible seas. Terlach and Cotton locked eyes. Terlach shoved his oar into Kursar's hands and he and Cotton plunged their hands into the gold-filled crate weighting the boat and began pitching the treasure overboard.
From astern of them, Jack howled in agony. But within minutes their boat lightened enough to move. They paddled hard, Jack's boat trailing them.
The air was full of ash and coral dust, and the walls were crumbling around them. A cracked board floated past and Jack grabbed it, adding his muscle to the rowers' efforts. The boat moved sluggishly, but as long as the large breakers battering the cave mouth didn't swamp them, Jack thought they could make it back to the Pearl with loot intact. He swung his board to starboard and then to port, bracing against the cavern walls to keep their vessel from smashing into them. One side, then the other, while Tetch and Thatch paddled and cursed. Waves slopped over the sides, but laborously they inched through.
Finally in a crash of spray they popped free, like a cork from a bottle. The night sky was a roiling cauldron of lightning and flame, the sea pitching and red with reflected fire. Jack twisted to look behind, and the isle appeared to be folding in on itself, a throbbing red wound at its center. The monkey scrabbled at the stern and Jack scraped it off with his board and cast it to the sea.
"Men, pull. Pull harder than you've ever pulled in your lives, or we'll be sucked under. Pull. Pull."
A ragged line of boats stretched to the Pearl. Jack's belly ached with the need to feel the grain of her against his skin again. "I'll never leave your decks again, m'bonny lass, if only I can reach you now!" he promised aloud.
Little by little they drew closer, but the weight of all that gold made the boat slow and unwieldy. The heaving seabed tossed up sections of the ships wrecked on the approach to Isla de Muerta, making their retreat even more treacherous.
They were falling behind.
Marty and Quartetto's boat had reached the Pearl, and there was a great rush to haul the men aboard. Jack redoubled his efforts to clear away the flotsam and help propel them along, but they no longer were making any progress. Dashed up and down on the crashing seas, he was just out of reach of his precious Black Pearl.
Thatch suddenly released his oar and crouched down.
"Here! What are you doing?" Jack barked.
The young man didn't answer. With cupped hands, he began to bail frantically, and, it appeared, futilely. There was an alarming amount of water in the boat, Jack realized.
"Leave by and keep rowing!" he snapped. They had to reach the ship or they were doomed.
Thatch kept scooping away mindlessly, but for every handful he pitched out, a bucketful slopped in. They were riding lower by the second, and were far too near yet to the conflagration behind them.
Jack had seen what happened when a naval vessel's powder magazine went up.
He'd seen the results of mixing fire, seawinds, and brittle island tinder.
This was going to be worse.
Much, much worse.
Tetch must have come to the same conclusion, for he stopped paddling and laid his hand on young Thatch's shoulder. "We's sinkin'-- J'es jump fer it, lad."
"Oi! Y' stay right where y' are and row!" Jack rapped out.
The grizzled sailor cast a measuring eye over the distance left to travel. "Ye swim, lad?" Thatch's head bobbled up and down. "Come 'long, then."
He pried the stiff buckled shoes off his feet and shed his belt and heavy coat. Then he placed his gnarled hand back on Thatch's shoulder and pulled the boy to his feet. The water inside the boat was nearly to his knees.
Jack made to grab for Thatch's leg, but it was too late-- both sailors leaped overboard. When they surfaced, they began flailing toward the Pearl, where Terlach's boat had just arrived.
There was no time to hurl curses after them.; Jack threw himself forward and took up the oars, barely capturing Thatch's before it slipped away out of the oarlock. He set his feet hard on the floor and drew the oars back.
It was like trying to move an elephant.
He pulled again, nearly tearing his back muscles loose from his spine. Leaned forward, bringing up the oars. Pulled.
Nearly pulled off his own arms.
Water crept higher in the boat. It was too swamped to row, too swamped even to drift now, but Jack kept trying. He tried and tried and when it became abundantly obvious he could not row a water-filled vessel all by his lonesome, he unhooked one oar and knelt on the thwart and tried to paddle it like a coracle.
He was still trying as the seawater overcame the boat's buoyancy, and it slipped away beneath him to join the myriad of other wrecks below.
Still kneeling, Jack sank along with it. He had the presence of mind to hang onto the oar, though, so all he got was a dunking. He surfaced spluttering, holding his hat to his head with his other hand, and with the chattering screech of the monkey filling his ears.
It was still following him.
Grasping the oar before him with both hands, Jack frog-kicked toward the Pearl. The monkey paddled alongside him until it was able to grab the oar's blade, and there it clung, baring its teeth at Jack from time to time, too far out of his reach to bother knocking it away at the moment.
A deep rumbling Jack felt rather than heard carried through the water he was immersed in. He raised his head and bellowed up at the Pearl, "Set sail! Make ready to weigh anchor, soon's I'm aboard!"
A ladder rolled down the Pearl's port side as he approached, and then her stern swung slowly around a degree, offering poor Jack a bit of shelter for the climb. Good old Gibbs! he thought gratefully as he hooked his elbows over the lowest rung and hacked seawater from his lungs. Just that thoughtful to his Captain!
He turned to shove the oar, with monkey attached, away from the ship, but he was too late-- while he'd been doubled over, coughing, the creature had sprung up onto the ladder above him and scurried aboard. "Barnacle-bitten spawn of a pox-mongering sea-devil!" Jack cursed as he dragged himself, rung by rung, up the ladder.
He collapsed in a sodden heap on deck, and since he was already face down, he kissed the Pearl's salt-scoured planks, kissed them with unabashed gratitude and joy, and with no mind of who might be watching.
No one was watching. No one stood ready to help him over the rail; no one rushed to his aid as he tumbled aboard. No, his crew were already at work preparing the Pearl to make way... had been hard at work to do so even before his orders, it seemed.
They were hauling mightily at the anchor cable, with Gibbs himself at the head of the line, without regard for whether their captain was actually on the ship or not. The anchor wasn't budging, though-- jammed tight, it was, holding the Pearl fast in place while they struggled and strained and pleaded.
And then, as Jack's lips touched the weathered wood, the anchor came free. All hands cried out in victory as it rose with sudden ease. The sails stood ready, unfurled and filled with hot wind, to glide the Pearl to open ocean the instant she was freed.
And so she did skip smartly seaward, as the crew finished lifting anchor and setting sail. Anamaria had the wheel, and even at the distance, Jack could see the grim set to her face.
"Thank y' for waiting for me, love," he murmered. "For it seems no one else did."
And he pushed upright, battered, aching in every muscle and tendon, and went forward to claim back his lady.
Anamaria's eyes were hot with anger, but she relinquished the wheel without a word. The Pearl stirred as his hands fitted to her...
Isla de Muerta exploded in a blast that shook the heavens.
Fire and molten rock fountained up from the hole in the ocean that a moment earlier had been an island. The thunderclap knocked everyone but Jack, braced by the wheel, off his or her feet. A searing hurricane roared outward, pushing everything-- birds, debris, cinders-- in its path. It punched hard at the ragged black sails.
"Hold together, lass!" Jack begged, and by some miracle, she did. She caught the blast and rode with it, letting the howl of wind shoot her across the ocean, faster, faster, out of range of the fiery stuff raining down, the deadly gouts of steam boiling up, where Isla de Muerta was no more.
Jack only held the wheel lightly, to let her know he was still there. Beyond that, he gave her her head, to take them out of danger and where she pleased.
One by one, the crew picked themselves up from where they'd been flung. The isle became a bonfire on their stern, and then an ember, and, at long last, merely a glow. The Black Pearl's heady speed slackened from runaway pace to her more usual brisk clip.
Gibbs approached awkwardly. "Jack! Ye made it! Awful worryin' for a bit there-- awful worryin'."
And although there was much he could have said in response, in the end Jack only regarded his first mate through unfathomable dark eyes and replied, "Aye."
Anamaria jumped ship at a speck of land called Abaco in the chain of Bahama islands. It was a testament to her lingering unease that she would risk an island where her free-born status was unlikely to be honoured by the British colonists there.
She took with her nothing but a meager roll of belongings, her knife, and the clothes on her back.
Left behind in her hammock was a folded banner of bright cloth-- a half-sewn flag suitable for a modest boat.
Jack lost more crew when he put in for repairs at a secluded port on the mainland of Spanish Florida. By ones and twos they slipped away, vanishing into the sandy scrub pine forests under a moonless sky.
Jack let them go without protest.
The treasure was gone. Not a single sack of gold had survived the escape; every chest had sunk to the depths. Pockets were empty, by purpose or chance. There was no epic carouse in a jolly port for Jack Sparrow's crew, and there was no yardarm-to-bilge overhaul for Jack Sparrow's ship.
No grand parcelling out of loot in equal shares took place.
When he sat down at last to clean and dry his pistol and sword, Jack had found the two bars of gold and the huge shiny cow coin he had tucked away in his clothing. They were enough to patch the holes, replace the worst of the rot, and lay in provisions.
The Black Pearl weren't pristine as he might wish, but she were sturdy and stout-hearted, and she were his 'n his alone.
Gibbs, guilt-stricken over the near-abandonment once again of Jack, insisted upon bartering the topaz crucifix that had managed to stay draped around his neck through the whole fiasco. A minor Spanish nobleman, with a share in a St. Augustine merchantile, took it in exchange for some assorted crates of rum, tobacco, and a cask of fine Rioja wine.
The pearl and ruby necklace was hidden away, in a little secret drawer so cunningly concealed not even Barbossa had found it in ten years of living in proximity to it.
Perhaps someday Jack would see occasion to place it 'round the neck to which it belonged.
"You're certain these are the bearings?"
"Completely, Commodore! I have checked and checked again. Lieutenant Groves is fetching the log now for a comparison."
James Norrington stood with his hands clasped casually behind his back, surveying the featureless stretch of water off his bow. All sign of confusion was carefully schooled from his face, but he was confused, and deeply so.
Less than a fortnight ago, an island had pierced the waves, at this very spot.
Had it not?
Groves hurried up the steps with the logbook. Tipping his wig back on his high forehead, he held out the volume for his commander. Norrington paged through it to the brief notations of Miss Swann's rescue from the rum runner's hideaway, of the capture of Sparrow, of the choice to go recover Mr. Turner, British citizen, from the hands of a notorious pirate gang. The heading given by Sparrow was jotted right there in India ink.
The numbers matched exactly.
"Take soundings of the depth," Norrington ordered. "I want readings from each point of this location."
"Aye, sir!" Gillette clattered down the stairs, barking out the order to certain crewmen, who hurried to cast over the side a long knotted rope.
"Where the devil could it have gone, Theo?" Norrington murmered, barely moving his lips.
Groves looked startled at the slip of his given name. "I've no idea, sir. Even Sparrow couldn't hide an entire island... could he?"
"I think not. There must be some explanation; one we have not yet learned."
Some time later, Lieutenant Gillette bustled back with the figures-- the water was considerably deeper now than it had been at their previous engagement on this patch of sea. And, in one spot, smack dab in at the center point of Sparrow's coordinates actually, was a bottomless pit.
"Might's well be, sir!" the young lieutenant replied, high color suffusing his cheeks. "We've sent down the sounding line its entire length, and nary a hint of seabed! Tied on every yardage of spare line we could scrounge, and still nothing."
"Curious," Norrington muttered.
"Some of the men wonder if the doings here caused to be opened a portal to... well, to Hell, sir." Gillette's eyes grew very round.
"Utter nonsense, Lieutenant!" Norrington snapped. He glared icily at Gillette. "Reel in the line, and make ready to proceed. And quash those ridiculous rumors among the men at once!"
"Aye-aye, sir!" The chastened lieutenant hustled off.
"Where did the island go, sir? Could it have fallen down a chasm opened beneath the ocean floor?" Groves murmered.
"Record the numbers taken here, Lieutenant," Norrington replied in a remote tone. "Someone may find them of interest." He lifted his chin, staring out over the sun-dazzled wavest to the horizon. "My only concern lies with my duty. Nearest landfall is the Lesser Antilles, and Sparrow's vessel has taken a mighty beating. Set a course that we might investigate some shipyards."
"Aye, sir-- at once." Groves sketched a slight bow and withdrew.
James Norrington gazed into the distance, the picture of calm confidence. Behind his back, his hands were balled in tight fists.
"There is nowhere on this deep blue sea you can escape me, Jack Sparrow," he murmered between pinched lips.