He was seeking a sailing vessel.
She'd been right, he was a sea-traveller, one who'd become separated from his clan. No wonder he grieved, cut off from his means of roving the great wide open. She would grieve too, should she be prevented from swimming free.
Persa held tight to his funny warm hand and pulled him along. At first when they'd crossed into the open sea, he'd flailed his free arm and made alarming choking sounds. She slowed at once, belatedly remembering humans, even ones marked as kin of the sea, did not breathe water.
Sorry! she thrummed at him.
He hacked out a throat-full of seawater, gasped something wheezy. She wished she knew his speech. Mam knew some human words, but she said it was needlessly complex-- they had at least a hands-worth of words that meant "sea" for instance, and another hands-worth for "sky". Mam suspected they were like the whales, who had a different language for each pod.
He tugged his hand free of hers, and Persa spun, eyes going wide. He didn't try to swim away from her, though; he gave a little kick so he was behind her again, and rested his hands on her shoulders. He said something, his breath a warm puff against her cheek, and gave his feet a little flutter.
She grinned back at him, her game young human, and pushed off against the sea. His body rode the waves easily now, tucked in her wake. She pushed again, building speed, and felt her tail-tip graze his toes.
A deep jolt shivered through him, as though he'd grasped the head of a shock-eel. But he didn't shriek nor wrench away from her. She felt his fingers slide against her skin, warmth meeting cool, and when her tongue flicked, she tasted only an absorbed curiosity.
She adjusted her course so that the land was on her left cheek, the wind on her right, and pressed on.
She knew exactly where to take this lostling.
As Mam had led the way from the deep green to the chunk of land where the humans schooled, they'd passed beneath the shadow of a large vessel. Great hooks of iron snagged the seafloor, with stretched-taut ropes of coarse fiber linking them to the wooden hull and pinning it in place. Persa had veered off to circle one of the hooks, her palm scraping the crusted metal. She'd tilted her head back, eyeing the elongated shadow far above. One hand grasped the rope; she'd swung round it, one circuit, two... A wiggle of her tail, and she was moving upward as she spun, an aimless game that just so happened to nudge her closer to the humans floating above...
Mam's trill had sliced through the sunny aquamarine water.
Come away from there at once.
She'd released the anchor rope and fluttered along in Mam's wake, outwardly obedient, but inwardly seething with curiosity.
How lucky that they had passed close enough for her to mark the vessel's location! For surely it had misplaced one of its sailors, and by great good chance Persa had found him! All that was needed now was to reunite them.
They surged along, her human's hands making little heated patches like sunshine on her shoulders, her hair-charms and pearl belt flicking against him. Every once in a while, he said something, amazement overlaying his taste.
Zh'ckk. What an unusual combination of sounds for a name. Oh, but he was a smart one, her oddly-named human! For he could hear her-- not just air-sounds when she repeated his name, but her song as well. Most of them were deaf as rocks to song. Persa gave a jubilent leap and arced through a clear crystal-green wave.
His hands tightened on her shoulders and he followed her down. Persa abruptly realized her error and surfaced, trilling contritely.
Sorry, sorry! I forgot!
He came up coughing, but then he surprised her by laughing aloud. She craned around at him, and he was grinning, his eyes all crinkled up with excitement. He pushed at her shoulders with a little rocking motion and said something, something eager-sounding.
Again? Persa asked, and perhaps he caught her meaning, for he jiggled her shoulders impatiently.
She twisted out of his grasp so they bobbed in the waves face-to-face. She held up her hand to catch his attention and very obviously drew in a long draught of air and held it, puffing out her cheeks. Sternly, she pointed at him.
Hold your air, she sang.
He nodded, took a deep breath, and puffed his own cheeks out at her.
She giggled at his expression. Pleased that he'd understood, Persa turned forward again. His hands fell to her shoulders. She beat against the water, and they surged ahead, building speed.
This time when Persa gathered for a dive, she felt his chest swell with air a split second before she leaped. They arched through the clear green wave, and he followed her over and down, through water streaked with bars of sunlight. Down and down, hair and pearls streaming back and tangling him to her, and then curving up again to break into golden sunlit air.
She could taste his exhiliaration on the spray raining down around them. She swirled her tail, felt it slide past his leg, and they were off again, working up to speed, leaping to arc through a high roller.
She'd played this game time and again with the dolphins, but never had she imagined a human could play, too. He was special, this one-- he could hear song, he could see image-art. He could porpoise through the water like he was half-fish.
He didn't fear her kind.
They surf-skipped all the way around the head of the island, leaping and diving and crowing into the wind with such abandon Persa forgot why they'd been heading north in the first place. Her human playmate seemed just as caught up in the game-- the bitter-salt-sorrow-tears taste had almost completely washed away, and he'd laughed aloud more than once as they surfaced. She rolled through the water with him, feeling him relax and ride along with the water instead of fighting it.
The current changed, bringing an earthy undertone to the mix of tastes. Persa halted abruptly mid-dive, remembered her passenger, and shot to the surface.
They popped up just offshore. The land here was dense with greenery, bisected by a freshwater creek. It lent a distinctly different flavor to the ocean.
Her human made a sound, and the sorrowful taste flooded back, edged with... hunger. Yearning. Not wistful, but resolute.
She twisted to see what had caused this sudden change.
His hand dropped off her shoulder. He shook water from his eyes, and they focused out beyond the reefs, where the sea was still deep enough for safe passage.
Out to where a vessel was anchored to the seafloor, rolling gently side to side on the tide.
Jack had been raised on fish tales. They'd lulled him to sleep, entertained him when becalmed, thrilled him on stormy winter nights. They'd bolstered him through a particularly nasty bout of the measles off the coast of Portugal once.
His favorite yarn had been that of an old salt who claimed to have dropped anchor far up north in the colonies one night, accidentally hooking the jaw of a sleeping whale. The whale had jolted awake and taken off, towing the old man's fishing boat at greater and greater speeds. The angrier the whale got the faster it swam, until the boat had skimmed the waves faster than an osprey could dive.
Jack always thought it must be glorious to sail at such frantic speeds, with the wind in your face and the sea at your feet. Clinging to the odd girl while she raced through the waves like a dolphin had given him a taste of what it must be like.
He didn't know for certain whether she were sea-nymph or half fish. She were too wild and strange to be human, that he knew. And there were something satisfying about that.
He were right sick of people after today.
For a few carefree moments, he'd actually forgot Da were gone forever. Not for long, a'course... just for a bit while the girl had pulled him down through the sea and up into the air, diving and bursting out over and over 'til they were all mixed and mingled and for a minute there he couldn't tell were he breathing water or air.
And then she'd stopped and a ship were sitting not a league away, all by its lonesome. No redcoats paced her deck; she flew no Union Jack.
And the reason for being in the water with no Da or Cap'n or Siren nearby came crashing over him with the force of a storm surge.
She looked like a fine ship-- sturdy and trim, no neglect he could see. He was desperate, but not desperate enough to sail under a bad ship's master.
He'd let loose of the girl without noticing, and was drifting away from the island on a current. He paddled to keep from getting swept 'round the point, and saw that the current was fed by a stream flowing off the island. He could see boats pulled up onto the strand, and men rolling barrels down the beach toward the boats.
The ship was taking on fresh water. He'd best hurry then, a'fore they finished loading the barrels and unfurled sail.
Jack struck out for the anchored ship.
The girl followed, warbling from time to time in a melancholy sort of way. He reckoned she didn't want their game to end, and jolly it had been... but he weren't staying on this cursed isle. He fixed his eyes on the ship and paddled harder.
It was a longer swim than he figured on, and he was breathing hard and coughing a bit when he finally reached her. Jack bobbed up and down in the swells, trying to keep from being dashed against the hull. The girl surfaced silently beside him, only her slant-wise eyes showing above the waterline. She caught hold of his arm, steadying him.
She cocked her head and blinked-- "What now?" she seemed to be asking.
Jack nodded up at the ship. "Best find a ladder," he murmered. He pulled loose of her grasp and paddled alongside the ship. He'd rounded the stern and started up the other side when he saw a ladder dangling over the side, a-waiting the return of the shore crew.
"There!" A weight rolled off his chest. He launched forward, determined to reach it and climb aboard.
A flicker in the water checked him. The girl was at his side again, blinking sadly. Jack pointed.
"I'll be going now. I'll climb aboard and sail away once the water's loaded. Ships always need boys."
She rose a bit out of the sea, studying the ladder, following with her eyes the way it scaled the towering wooden hull, and she nodded. She turned back to Jack and trilled.
The sound washed over him like fair winds and salt spray. It were a blessing of sorts, he were sure of it, and his throat felt raw all of a sudden, like swallowing seawater.
"Thank you, Miss, for bringing me to this 'ere ship." He hoped she savvied somehow. The sea's rocking tapped the sea-charm against his chin, and he touched it lightly. "Thank you for giving me this, too."
She looked all sorrowful-like, and mayhap she were sorry to part ways from him. It were a strange feeling, to have someone mourn his leaving. Jack's eyes prickled, and he quickly looked down.
Then he spied something that put a thought into his head. His shirt was begged from the local gentry by that bloody church deacon, and as such it was the finest-- though heaviest-- garment he'd ever worn. The front and sleeves fastened up with buttons of silvery metal instead of the usual bone or wood.
Jack seized the top button in his strong brown fingers. He twisted it 'round and 'round, and at last the threads gave way and pulled loose. Quickly he twisted free a second button.
"Here." He found the girl's smooth cool hand beneath the waves and pressed the buttons into it. "These're for you."
Her eyes widened and her mouth rounded. She made a shrill squeaking sound and gazed enraptured at the shiny disks in her palm. Feeling slightly embarrassed-- they were only buttons, and second-hand ones at that-- Jack shrugged and ducked away. The girl were burbling and carrying on like he'd handed her treasure. He frog-kicked his way to the ladder.
He was reaching up over his head for it when he felt a sudden rush past his feet. The girl swirled up from the depths-- he got a quick, confused glimpse of storm-grey eyes, ivory skin, a shower of hair-trinkets-- he felt a cool brush along his cheek-- and then she arced beneath the waves. Pearl ropes gleamed pale against blue-green scales; tail-fins trailed like wet lace.
She were gone. He could feel the emptiness about him. A shiver chased down his spine, and then Jack Sparrow stretched and seized the lowest rung, and hauled himself up out of the warm sea.
"Where in d'hell did you spring from?"
Jack stood straight and tall under the glare of the Captain. A sailor had spied him the second he'd clambered over the side, and had hauled him stumbling and dripping down the deck. He'd rapped at a door until another man had briefly stuck out his head; and finally this stern, stocky gentleman had flung open the door to stand glaring at Jack from under white-blond eyebrows.
Jack pointed back down the deck. "I came up the side. Sir," he thought to add.
"You're drippin' on my decks, boy."
"Aye, sir. I swum out."
"Did you now. For what purpose, pray?"
"I want to join your crew, sir."
The Captain smothered a laugh and instead studied the bedraggled boy with narrowed eyes. "Must have a powerful urge to sail under my colors to have you swimming across d'lagoon to get here."
"What makes you t'ink I'm needin' a snot-nosed, undersized little brat clutterin' up my ship, eh?"
Jack stood even straighter. "I'm a good hard worker, sir. I can keep lookout and splice line and raise sail. Can carry powder, sir, and load it, too. I'm not a'feared of climbing rigging nor shifting cargo in the deepest hold."
"Mighty fine-lookin' duds you're wearin' for a hard worker." The Captain poked Jack's belly. "You run off from some highborn family?"
"No, sir. Deacon gave me these clothes."
"Oh, aye? T'en you're on the skip from some land-locked orphan asylum?"
Jack shook his head and the braided charm flashed in the sun. "No, sir. Ships've been me home as far back as I remember. Mine's gone and wrecked now, else I'd not be looking. I can do just about whatever needs doing, even scrub decks and scrape cookpots."
"I reckon that's all you'd be good for," the Captain commented absently. His eyes were on the swaying trinket. He stretched out a knarled forefinger and caught the azure disk upon it. Jack cut his eyes sideways without moving. From the corner of his eye he could see the Captain studying it with an inscrutable expression on his seamed face.
Abruptly the man let the shell drop. "Aye, t'en. I am Captain Marius. Welcome aboard d' Lady Batavia... what's your name?"
"Just Jack, sir," Jack replied stoutly.
Marius frowned down at him. He rubbed his thumb across his forefinger as if wiping away a distasteful residue. He jerked a quick nod.
"Well t'en, Jus' Jack, I hope you've said your goodbyes, because d' Lady Batavia won't wait on you returnin' ashore. Get yourself below to d'man in d'middle cabin, Joos van Schley; he's been commissioned mapmaker on t'is voyage. He may have need of some fetch 'n carry from you in between deck scrubbin' and slops emptyin'. He's d'patience to lay out what's expected of you in regards to behavior and duties, too."
And Jack nodded up at his new Cap'n, backed away, then turned and scurried off before the man could change his mind and toss him overboard. The Lady Batavia rocked comfortingly beneath his bare feet.
At the hatch, he put one foot on the belowdecks ladder. Something made him pause. He withdrew the foot, cast a quick glance around, and seeing no eyes upon him, sneaked to the rail. He craned over the side.
There-- bobbing a'stern were a swirl of reddish seaweed. Jack waved to it, and it raised up, forming into the pale oval of a faced framed by streaming hair. He waved again.
A small ivory hand rose from the waves and gave a tentative waggle. Then, gaining confidence, it waved back harder.
Jack pushed himself up onto the rail on his stomach. He leaned out over the water. "Thank you!" he called down.
The girl waved again, then shot both hands overhead to form a peak. With a blue-green glimmer, she arced up and over in a hasty dive, and vanished.
A shadow fell over Jack. He jerked 'round to see a fellow crewman looming over him.
"Who ye talkin' to, boy?"
Jack opened, then closed, his mouth. He slid down off the rail and shrugged. "No one."
"On your way, then. Cap'n said for ye to get below."
"Aye-aye." Jack ducked around the sailor.
Before he'd taken more'n a step, the wind carried to his ears a wisp of siren-song. The sailor walked on, oblivious. But Jack smiled and hugged the secret to himself.
Fair seas to you, sea-kin. Fare thee well.