Summary: Cutler Beckett recounts the story of his first meeting with a young Jack Sparrow.
Fandom: Pirates of the Caribbean
Disclaimer: I own a nifty pirate costume. Does that count?
Author's Note: My interpretation of the 'we each left our mark on the other' comment.
I first met Jack Sparrow when he was eighteen, an aspiring seaman working for the East India Trading Company. Of course at that time he wasn't known as Captain Sparrow as he now insists on being called. In those days he went by the name of Jack Teague, and I'm almost certain that was his real name. Why he abandoned his father's name and where the 'Sparrow' came from is somewhat more of a mystery to me, but I'm sure he has his reasons.
He was the helmsman for the Wicked Wench, one of our trading vessels, when I encountered him for the first time. It was the blazing height of an Indian summer, at the docks in Mumbai if memory serves. The Wicked Wench had suffered an encounter with a pirate vessel. Although her crew had valiantly fought off the attackers, the ship herself was badly damaged.
Despite the passage of years I still remember my first glimpse of him with startling clarity. On my way to view the damaged vessel, I rounded an overloaded rickshaw and saw him. He was arguing vehemently with one of the Indian dockworkers in their incomprehensible native tongue, and in the heat of their disagreement he was gesturing forcefully, apparently having forgotten that his chest and right arm were heavily bandaged (I later learned that he could handle a sword equally well with either of his hands, and had remained at the forefront of the fight even after he was no longer able to use his right arm).
I did not understand enough of the language they spoke to catch any more than the general drift of their argument, but Sparrow – or rather, Teague at this point – seemed if not fluent then very well-versed in their native tongue. Hindi, I believe they were speaking, though young and inexperienced as I was at the time I could have been mistaken.
Apart from these details, what struck me most was his tenacity. He was short and slightly built, not to mention already injured, but still he was quarreling fiercely with a muscle-bound dockworker perhaps a foot taller than him. In the end the larger man conceded whichever point Sparrow was trying to make and he turned towards me with a satisfied grin. "Sir," he said simply with a slightly awkward salute and a little too much deference for it to have been entirely serious.
I remember thinking in a distant sort of way that he must have been a favourite with the ladies when the Wicked Wench made port. His artfully disheveled dark hair was tied back in a loose tail and black kohl rimmed a deep and striking pair of brown eyes. He had yet to acquire the distinctive gold teeth, but his grin was charming and roguish even then. A favourite with the ladies…really, I realise now, this was just a way of acknowledging his attractiveness without admitting I was attracted to him.
I was no-one important at this early stage in my career, and I took advantage of the fact that my presence would not be required and my absence would not be noted. I concentrated on watching my superiors board the ship to speak with the captain, a man called Jenson, appearing to ignore Sparrow's curious gaze on me.
"You were injured in the battle?" I asked eventually, starting the conversation on an innocuous topic.
"Aye," he replied easily; "Shot four times – twice in the shoulder, once in the arm, once in the chest. S'pose I got lucky, sir; we lost men to fewer bullets."
"Formality is unnecessary," I told him; "I doubt I outrank you substantially in any case."
"Much obliged, mate," Sparrow said, and I was privileged to see that disarmingly ingratiating grin again.
We talked about nothing of consequence for some time – during which I learned that his fluency in what had indeed been Hindi was because his mother was a native – as our respective superiors went about tasks which thankfully did not require our assistance. I found him to be very pleasant company, surprisingly quick-witted and well educated for a crewman. When I questioned why he had not sought a more eminent post, he replied simply; "Can't stand paperwork, mate… wouldn't want to leave the sea anyway." The glint in his eye spoke eloquently of a deep and abiding love for the open ocean, and I decided I rather liked him.
At this point I feel obliged to emphasise that I am relating my thoughts and feelings at the time. Certainly now I feel nothing towards the man save for bitterness, and perhaps a trace of regret.
We met many times over the course of the next few years. The Wicked Wench was trading mostly around the Indian Ocean, so she – and thus her helmsman – returned to Mumbai on a regular basis. She was an unusually fast ship, her sleek hull built more for speed than capacity. Thus she was entrusted with small but expensive cargoes rather than bulk produce. I made a point of meeting Sparrow every time she made port in Mumbai, and we became good friends. On several occasions he spoke of a desire to travel further: although he had spent a fair portion of his youth in the Caribbean, he wished to visit Africa and Europe – I was shocked to learn he had never so much as visited England – but never did he even contemplate abandoning the Wicked Wench. It was then that I discovered that his love for the sea was exceeded only by his love for the ship which would one day be rechristened the Black Pearl.
Time passed, as it is in the habit of doing. It was autumn of the third year since I met Sparrow, and he had just recently turned twenty-one. He was still the helmsman, having stubbornly resisted any attempts to promote him to a post which would part him from his beloved ship.
Fierce monsoon rains had led Captain Jenson of the Wicked Wench to have her remain in port until they slackened off somewhat, and her crew was ecstatic to have an indefinitely extended period of shoreleave. I too had managed to wheedle a little time off, and thus it was that I found myself in a disreputable tavern known as the Black Swan, holding a glass of scotch in one hand and a distinctly inferior cigar in the other. It was on this night I discovered Sparrow's incredible capacity for rum. He drank the liquor like water, and had a phenomenal tolerance for it. He managed to get me thoroughly ratted before he was much more than tipsy.
Much of that night is forever lost to me in an alcohol-induced haze. Only distant recollections of dark eyes and sun-bronzed skin and pleading and moans and the taste of rum and spice and the sea remain to me. But even all these years later I remember the next morning in perfect detail. I remember waking up utterly indecent with a blinding headache, entwined on a cheap bed in a rented room with a deceptively charming young man who would go on to be the most legendary pirate ever to live. I remember being too tired and confused to even attempt to work out what was going on; I simply buried my face in the blankets and went back to sleep.
I shan't recount the tedious details of my moment of purest panic when my mind started functioning again and I realised exactly what we had done. Nor shall I go into his attempts to calm me (He accepted the whole situation with a suspicious nonchalance which leads me to believe worse things really do happen at sea). I will always remember the hurt in his eyes when I stood and stalked out of there. I intended to never speak to him again. Not because I blamed him particularly – he was hardly sober by anyone's standards at the time – but for a moment when I glanced back at him, lean and lithe and tanned, lying alluringly on that shabby bed, I couldn't help but think hang the consequences. I remembered little of the previous night, but God help me for an endless moment I wanted nothing more than to do it again. But I couldn't risk my position, couldn't risk the consequences of being caught. So I resolved to spend the rest of my life avoiding the man.
Fate, however, has a way of making fools of us when we commit to such resolutions. I was promoted not a week later, and put in command of several ships…including the Wicked Wench. I thought it would not be unpleasant – after all, I would only have to give Jenson his orders – until I learned that Jenson had retired. Sparrow, unaware that he would be reporting directly to me (At least I think he was, it is never safe to assume anything with that man), had immediately petitioned to be put in command of his beloved ship.
I kept the briefing as…well, brief as possible, and sent him off to do the slaving run to Africa. That would keep him out of my way for a good few months. I remember thinking that it might be bearable if I simply had to give him the same set of orders a couple of times a year. This, once again, was revealed to be destiny lulling me into a false sense of security.
For I discovered on the Wicked Wench's return to India that upon learning the true nature of his cargo, Sparrow had effectively mutinied. He had freed the slaves, refusing to transport them as he had been ordered. No-one saw fit to inform me of this rebel's identity in advance – I was led out to the docks, and received perhaps the worst shock of my life when I saw exactly whose branding I was to perform.
Held by two burly guards, he did not bother to struggle, but his eyes were ablaze with defiance. I was reminded oddly of the day we first met. Upon seeing me he spat out a chain of obscenities in a variety of languages, a truly frightening depth of hatred on his voice. Had it occurred to him, I truly believe he would have told all and sundry of that night in the Black Swan, and gone willingly to the gallows so long as he could have taken me with him.
"Jack Teague," I said formally; "You have been accused of theft of the East India Trading Company's property; to wit, two hundred African slaves."
"They're people, you bastard," he spat; "Not 'property', not goods to be bartered."
I ignored this comment. It was ridiculous, really; "For this crime you are to be branded a pirate."
He didn't reply to that. He stared straight back me, unflinching, and I'm sure that only I saw the flicker of fear in those dark eyes. The two guards gripped him tighter, and a third rolled up his right sleeve. I forcefully silenced the part of my mind which wondered if the brand would hurt more than the gunshot wounds he had suffered immediately prior to our first meeting.
Sparrow's eyes widened as I lifted the red-hot brand, making him seem years younger, and for a moment I was reminded of what I had come to think of as the Black Swan incident. He had looked so young and innocent lying asleep, his dark hair falling into his eyes… but no, I couldn't dwell on that.
There was a sizzling, hissing sound as the brand pressed against his flesh – flesh that tasted so good, so soft against your own skin, a voice at the back of my mind whispered nastily – but it was all but drowned out by the awful scream that burst from his lips; a raw, tearing sound of pure agony. That scream haunted my nightmares for months afterwards. The snide little voice seized on my internal horror; you heard him screaming in ecstasy, and it sounded so much sweeter…
But what truly hurt was the look in his eyes, so much like when I left him in the Black Swan, as he hung limp in the iron grip of his captors. He looked up at me, and his eyes asked so many questions I knew I could never answer: Why? How could you do this to me? How could you hurt me like this? I had to do something, anything, to exorcise those hurt, pleading eyes from my mind.
"Torch his ship," I said coldly, and stalked away.
So really, it's true what I said. We each left our mark on the other. He has the 'P' forever engraved on his right wrist in seared flesh, a scar that will never fade. But the pain faded: the wound healed and became a scar, the ship he loved so much rose from the depths and became truly his. My wounds are of a less tangible nature.
And I doubt they will ever heal.