Iridescence

Disclaimer: This story was written for entertainment only and I am making no profit from it. "Pirates of the Caribbean" and Jack Sparrow 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.

This story was written long before Dead Man's Chest, with its hints that Tia Dalma gave Jack the compass, and before it was known that Jack's father is alive and may appear in At Worlds End. So be warned it is no longer canon-compliant.

"A little mermaid flopped up on deck and told him the whole story."
.
Set Adrift

They hanged John Michael Sparrow on the fourth of June, and right up until the rope snapped taut, Jack was convinced his father had some plan up his sleeve to hatch an escape. The crewmen who'd escaped would storm the gallows; the hangman would turn out to be an old drinking mate willing to slice John Michael free of his bindings; the rope would break.

It was hot, and Jack was suffocating in the layers of thick cloth they'd dressed him in. The shoes pinched, and the deacon's fingernails pinched crescents into the side of his neck where his hand lay heavy as shame on Jack's small shoulder.

"C'mon, Da, c'mon then," Jack whispered. His heart were flapping harder'n a torn sail in a hurricane. His dark eyes flicked back and forth across the line of bound men, the log walls of the fort, the red-coated guards at the gate.

This small outpost of the Crown hadn't had enough gallows to handle all the captured men at once. A hastily erected post-and-beam structure stood alongside the regular trio of gallows, a half-dozen men perched atop wooden barrels with ropes about their necks. John Michael Sparrow was second from the end; at his right hand, Mick had his eyes squeezed shut, his lips moving silently; and on his left, Scup was swaying slightly already, his eyes dazed with drink.

He musta bribed a bottle from the jailer, Jack reckoned, and he squirmed against the deacon's sharp fingers, wanting to worm his way up to the front so as to be ready when Da's own bribe kicked him free.

The deacon gave the boy a shake hard enough to rattle his head on his neck. "Be still, you heathen spawn! Pay attention and do not fidget."

A stir went over the assembled crowd, and an officious man hustled forward and mounted the platform beside the gallows trees. Ink-smudged hands unrolled a parchment, and he cleared his throat and began to read.

The words were the same as from the day before, read out by the man with the fearsome wig in the stifling room where they'd made Jack sit still on a hard wooden bench. They'd not let him scamper over to where his Da were shackled with Mick and Scup and Powder and the others, the Cap'n on the end with an extra chain about his neck. Jack didn't want to listen to the words again; they were just a fancy-like way of saying the crew were pirates and had stole what didn't belong to them. Jack knew that already; he just wanted to know when his Da, John Michael Sparrow, would be slipping cleverly free of his ropes, leaping down off that keg, snatching his hand, and spiriting them both from under the noses of the bedeviled redcoats.

"C'mon, Da," he whispered.

A drummer commenced beating a slow tattoo, and anticipation made Jack's feet twitch. Somewhere off to his right, a woman began screaming-- it were Isabella, Cap'n's woman.

There was a scuffle, curses, the crack of a hand against flesh. Isabella's shrill cries choked off.

"Da," he rasped. He coughed, tried again. "Da, c'mon, let's go... "

"Silence!" The deacon's hand clenched, twisting Jack's collar tight to his throat.

Isabella was screaming again, the sound thick and muffled as though forced through cloth, and the hangman was moving, stepping forward... throwing the first lever. The Captain jerked down, down behind the adults crowding in front of Jack, down so all he could see was the top of the first gallows, black against heat-bleached sky, and a stretched-tight rope, quivering hard.

A roar went up, inhuman in its eagerness, and for the first time, Jack was truly afraid.

Isabella went silent; rounded with Cap'n's babe, she would faint when she breathed too rapid-like. The babe in her belly were all that were keeping her from a place at Cap'n's side today. They said they would hang her once she were delivered of her child, but Jack hoped his Da would rescue her when they scarpered off. He liked Isabella-- she knew hundreds of songs, and she often gave him an orange when an errand brought him to Cap'n's quarters. He swallowed hard and strained against the deacon's hand, trying to catch his father's eye.

The hangman was moving down the platform, throwing levers one after another, crewmen dropping from sight behind the teeming crowd. Jack elbowed the deacon's puffy gut and hopped up and down.

"Da!" he roared, suddenly finding his voice.

And miracle of miracles, John Michael Sparrow's dark eyes swept the hot, dusty parade ground and pierced the packed mass of spectators to find his son.

There was a 'thump' as the hangman kicked the first of the barrels from beneath a crewman's feet. John Michael didn't spare a glance, even though a second thud quickly followed. His eyes never wavered from the desperately frightened boy below him.

"Jack."

Another 'thump'; another mate disappearing with a thick snap.

"Run, boy!"

Scup, beside John Michael, peered down as the hangman appeared before him, confusion written across his drink-blurred features. Before he could grasp what was happening, he dropped away, rope singing with sudden tension.

"Fly!"

Jack heard the thud of the hangman's boot connecting with the barrel. In disbelief, he saw his father's body shoot down out of sight behind the cheering townsfolk.

Not possible. Not possible. Da-- brave, laughing, always at the center of some bit of deviltry-- Not Da!

Never once had he been hurt-- no shot had ever touched him, no sword ever sliced him, not even a knock on the head. The others joked about John Michael's uncanny luck, teased him for his secret. He had no scars, had lost no fingers to line or cutlass, never even stepped on a fishhook.

It were not possible for John Michael Sparrow to die on a hangman's rope.

The deacon was laughing, his florid, self-righteous face tipped back to heaven. Sheer fury so hot he broke into sweat washed over Jack, and he exploded into a cyclone of kicks and punches, pounding the man's sober black arms and legs with every scrap of strength he possessed.

"Here now!" The deacon was no longer laughing. "Stop that at once!" He bent over to pinion the struggling boy's limbs.

And Jack reared up and slammed his head full into the deacon's face.

The man fell back with a clogged gasp, hands flying to catch the sudden gush of blood, and Jack was free. He dove forward, shooting between the legs of the merchants crowding the foot of the gallows. A lace-bedecked skirt blocked him, and he squirmed past, earning a clout on his ear.

"Don't soil me, you little ruffian," snapped the woman.

The blow sent him sprawling beneath the skirts of the woman's maids, and they shrieked theatrically and danced aside. Jack scrambled forward on hands and knees, ignoring the kicks and curses aimed at him. He broke free of the crowd and leaped to his feet.

And came up right at the base of the makeshift gallows.

Six bodies swayed slowly like grotesque laundry on a line.

Scup had a huge puddle of piss beneath his feet, already drawing flies. Mick's head-- hell's bells-- Mick's head were near sideways to his body. There were a pushing mob 'round Cap'n's tree, fighting for souvenirs.

And Da...

Someone grabbed the back of Jack's coat, snapping him out of his frozen horror.

"Cob here, you filt'y cur... "

Jack hunched his shoulders and dropped to his knees, sliding neatly out of the coat. He scrambled across the dusty ground on hands and feet with his seat in the air, like the monkeys Da had shown him down in the jungles.

"Stob hib! Stob dat boy...!"

He vaulted the keg that had been under poor ol' Mick's boots, skinned past the baffled redcoat at the back of the gallows, and pounded towards the gate. The redcoats there gave no notice to a small boy in dusty garments of the gentry, no doubt giving his governess the slip, and Jack was through the gate and down the road before the bloodied deacon could raise the alarm.

.o.

.o.

Miniscule air bubbles gloved her body, catching the sun slanting through the prism of the water and glowing eerily blue. Persa rolled with delight, turning her head to watch her luminescent skin.

Mam, look, I'm moonlight!

Coyla hummed distractedly. Yes, Persa. She pumped forward, eyes darting. I don't like the taste on the current today, she sang, low.

I'm a moon jelly, Mam!

Hush, Persa.

Coyla streamed forward, trailing hair threaded with shell and coral and disks of bone. Persa wiggled in her wake, sobered despite the beautiful aquamarine light of the shallows.

Mam? What taste?

Coyla struggled to find the song that would explain. Hate, she finally thrummed. Evil.

I don't understand.

I know. She circled, circled, finally settling on the white sand below, beckoning Persa. Her fingers fluttered, summoning a likeness to float between them. The shark-- the cruel one.

Black Streak, Persa trilled with fear.

Yes. He kills not just to eat, but for lust of the blood-smell in the water. Because he craves the taste of terror in the currents. That is evil. Cruelty.

Her fingers trailed, swirled. Gathered image and set it before Persa's wide eyes. Happiness can draw Black Streak, yes? She pulled her hand back to reveal a cluster of the Folk, curled laughing on the rocks in the deep green, holding seagrass streamers, conch horns, a coral flute.

Persa hid her eyes when she saw their faces. Yes, she cried, in mourning song.

Coyla nodded. To seek out joy, only to rip it apart for the pleasure of seeing it turn to agony-- that is evil. Do you see now?

Yes, Mam. Persa waved her small fingers ever so gently through the likeness, dispersing it. She rolled into her mother's white arms, curling miserably against her. Is Black Streak in the shallows? she sang in a small voice.

No. But something like him is near here. I can taste the cold-bloodedness seeping into the current. She rolled upright, setting Persa gently aside. Arms tight to her sides, she gave a strong beat and shot upwards. Sand whirlpooled in her wake, tickling Persa's skin, who wiggled after her mother.

The water lightened, both in weight and in color. They broke surface, hair sleek to their heads, droplets sliding down their cheeks. Coyla narrowed her eyes against the sudden dryness.

Land was before them, inhabited land, blocky with the strange ugly shelters the humans constructed. The largest structure loomed along the edge of the water, heavy tree trunks fitted together atop squared-off stones to form a huge barrier. A square opening on one side bled a steady stream of humans, and some of the bizarre four-legged steeds laced to rolling boxes.

Persa nipped out her tongue, trying to taste what her mother did, but all she sensed was a rank, heavy smell that made her wrinkle her small nose.

It's something to do with the humans, Coyla sang. She swished the water uneasily, and raised up, shoulders and chest above the waves, head tilted back as she tasted the scents rolling off the land.

Abruptly she sank back. They've killed their own kind, she sang in a short burst. And they enjoyed doing it.

She spun and clasped Persa's shoulders. You will go north below the waves, Persa. To the cove that is empty of humans. You will stay there in that cove until I come for you, and you will not stray to any human settlements. Is that clear?

We were going to watch how the humans live, Mam, Persa sang, subdued.

Not today. Today they killed some of their own for entertainment. I do not want my daughter seeing the results of such barbarism. Is that clear?

Yes, Mam.

Go, then.

What will you do, Mam?

Coyla hesitated. Then she reached out, smoothing Persa's tangled hair, straightening some of the charms ornamenting the wet strands. I want to see what they did, how they did it, she sang, and sorrow drummed in the melody. See if I can mark how it started, and by whom. The more I learn, the better I can warn our Folk. For every tide brings more of them to these waters. Someday they will no doubt discover us, and we must be prepared. We must understand what they might do to our people if they treat their own the way a shark treats a plaything.

Persa nodded. Her chest-- the place where tears started before they reached her eyes-- was tight. I liked some of them, she sang in a tiny voice.

I know. Coyla's song was infinitely kind. I did too.

Then she put her hands on her daughter's small shoulders and turned her around. She gave her a nudge and sent her flipping down beneath the surface. With a blue-green shimmer, Persa was gone.

Coyla sighed with sorrow and turned back to the land. Squinting against the brilliance of sun on water, she began to search for the best approach to the humans' domain.