Gentlemen of Fortune- by Wai-Jing Waraugh
I missed the scene after the credits of At World's End, so to console myself over Will and Elizabeth's fate, I wrote this fic. Spoilers for the last PotC film contained herein.
Rated K+, some morbid themes. But no worse than the films really.
Prologue - The Mariner and the Message
All was quiet in the seaport town - almost unnaturally so. The only sounds were those of the bell tolling mournfully and mutely in the kirk tower, and the lapping of diminutive ripples on the sides of a weather-beaten vessel docked in the bay.
The ship - Christabel her name - stood unnaturally still in the glassy water. No voices hollered, no arms creaked as they tugged on the rigging, no orders were barked, nor laziness admonished, nor any voice raised to incant a sea-faring ditty. The vessel was silent as one painted upon a painted sea.Only one noise tainted the untrodden deck of the ship; the rasping breath of a lone mariner, surveying his surroundings like a man in delirium. His eyes flitted crazily from the kirk's steeple to the harbour master's outpost to the distant hills above the sleeping township. A parched, blackened tongue licked lips which trembled with great agitation.
"Home," he managed to rasp hoarsely. "I'm home..."
He staggered across the deck in stupefied appreciation. The tip of his boot clipped a shipmate who appeared to be sleeping, slumped on the rotting boards. However, nothing, no protest of indignation, not so much as breath, issued from the man's lips. His body displayed no evidence of life - it was no more than a corpse. And it wasn't the only one. Corpses lay in piles all about the ship, in the galley, by the helm, even leaning precariously out of the crow's nest in a petulant attitude. The ship was manned by one live sailor; the rest were all dead.
The darkness of the night was illuminate by the moon's sudden appearance from behind a cloud. The scene became eerier still - shadows lengthened, dead men seeming to move in the shifting light. Then, as the light took on a softer quality, alighting on each bent head like a tragic halo, one by one the corpses did indeed move, and did more than move - they seemed to undergo metamorphosis from earthly flesh into intangible forms, until each man seemed made out of the same substance as the moonlight. One by one they got to their feet and stood in readiness, as though awaiting a captain's orders.
The one living man witnessed this change without surprise or distress; he had watched this unnerving transformation occur each evening for the last seven days. What did arrest his attention, as he traced the path of the moonbeams with his eyes, was the presence of a mysterious being perched upon the mizzen mast, between himself and the source of the light. It appeared as only a silhouette of a man, thrown into sharp relief. It was impossible to tell if he were indeed a man, or if he were really the shadows made incarnate, just as these dead crew members now appeared to be made of light.
This sinister shade was unmistakably a nautical man, judging by the outline of his clothes, from the heavy, cuffed boots to the wind-borne hair pulled in maverick wisps from beneath a bandanna around his brow. The exact features of the man, however, were indefinable in the darkness, his abstract form alone seemingly etched upon the moon like some pirate brand.
The lone mariner watched in fascination as this figure, like some dark marionette, raised his hand; as he did so, all the dead sailors moved simultaneously. Even the mariner, who had tended to the ship beside his dead kindred for the last seven days, flinched in superstitious awe as each man raised his hand and waved to the darkened shore. His own nephew, whose corpse stood beside him, turned his empty gaze towards the flickering lights perched on a bluff high up in the hills; the hut he had been born in. One by one the men paid their last farewells to their homeland; then each man rose like ether down from the deck and drifted, a miasma of souls, into the air. They streamed in a great cloud past the figure upon the mast; he watched them pass in a casual attitude, his hands clasped behind his back and his head slightly bowed in a respectful pose. The mariner watched his nephew's soul rise; the lad looked down at him, waved once, then turned his eyes towards the moon. As each man passed before the moon, he appeared to disappear into it. The great orb seemed to flare with excess light; then the night was once again calm, the darkness subdued. A new peace seemed to fall upon the Christabel. Before she had possessed the disconcerting quietude of a floating tomb; now she was merely a sleeping vessel, her sails fluttering restfully in the breeze, her rocking gait soothing in the calm waters. The ship was now at peace with itself, free from the uneasy souls of the dead.
The mariner was now seated on the deck, his parched mouth hanging open, staring up at the point of the souls' disappearance. The mysterious figure also watched the moon for a moment, then turned and looked down at him, starting him from his stupor with a hoarse gasp. As he watched in amazement, the phantom stepped from his perch and landed on the deck with nary a sound.
He advanced upon the mariner, who scurried backward, crab-fashion, cringing away from the sinister figure. There was a shrill squawk; a large mottled black and grey bird fluttered onto the man's shoulder. The mariner stared; he had shot at that bird himself with his crossbow and watched it drop at his feet upon the deck little more than two weeks ago. There was no mistaking its dark plumage, unnatural on an albatross - truly it was a bird of ill-omen...
This seemed confirmed by the glimmer of the knife the mysterious man produced and held aloft, the same moonlight maliciously catching its edge and giving it a sinister aura. The mariner found himself cornered against the ship's rail, dark waters at his back and unable to retreat further. His weak chin trembled visibly; his limbs, the flesh flayed from them by food deprevation, appeared affected by palsy.
He thought he heard a splash of oars and a ruckus of voices at his back - the pilot and his boy, come to investigate the vessel! - but it was too late for him to be saved, his mysterious assailant drew breathe to speak what would surely be the last words he would hear:
"You can't stay here. I need to tow this boat below to the locker, where she belongs. And you're not yet authorized to become a passenger."
The voice was quiet, almost curt; a voice that might be owned by any captain confident in his command, yet it sent a thrill through the listening sailor which he could not explain.
He stared more fixedly at the man who confronted him. Clues to his identity connected themselves in his mind - aiding the passage of dead men's souls...a once-dead bird for a companion...the locker...the locker... his locker...
The man made a casual swipe with the knife. It severed a rope that was part of the ship's rigging; a minor aft sail, freed from its bonds, swung round and caught the mariner square in the chest, knocking him over the rail and knocking the air from his lungs in one heavy stroke. He hurtled through the damp air, then landed with a thud on what was part wooden deck, part living flesh, and part tri-corner hat.
"Ack! What goes there?!"
"Geroff! Who the hell are you?!"
He had landed neatly in the pilot's boat on top of three unsuspecting men, at least two of whom swore loudly and freely in surprise.
He gasped, trying to recover his breath; the chill night air hit his lungs like a mouthful of cold sea water and he choked. The pilot's boy had begun to shriek terribly:
"A corpse! A corpse is alive!" The mariner was so skeletal after two weeks at sea without food that he might have very easily been mistaken for the living dead.
"Don't be daft! Foolish git!" the pilot roared, his ferocious tone masking his own uneasiness.
"Easy lad," said a third, calmer voice - that of the town's hermit priest, who had accompanied them.
The mariner took no heed of any of them. He had only thoughts for the strange man aboard the Christabel. He scanned the ship's deck above him, looking for the shadowy figure; finally he saw movement at the ship's prow. The phantom was securing a stout rope to the vessel's fore; his boot was braced against the rail and he was tugging hard at the knot. Satisfied that it was secure, he looped the loose end of the rope round his waist and stepped onto the rail.By now the other occupants of the longboat had noticed the mariner's preoccupation and also watched the dark figure's machinations; even the pilot's boy was silent. Now the mysterious man looked down at them all, sprawled in their tiny wooden boat, and gave them a curt nod. Then he dove straight into the water below with a gentle splash, leaving no mark of his passage other than the slack of the rope, which continued to follow him down.
The hermit crossed himself and began to recite a prayer for the drowned man's soul.
The mariner thought furiously. Not drowned, no, surely not if he was who he thought he was...the rope continued to disappear...rope...a tow rope...
With a startled squawk the mariner launched himself into a seated position on the bench beside the pilot's boy, seized the oars, and began to row like a man possessed.
The pilot's boy was in hysterics.
"Sink me! The devil knows how to row!" He laughed in an uninhibited, mad-sounding way that made the pilot shiver. The hermit obstinately continued to recite holy words.
"The devil, aye," the mariner grunted between oar strokes. "But not me; he 's takin' my ship, an' we've gotta move if we wanna tread on shore once more before we die."
All along as he panted through his work, the oars turning like water wheels, his eyes watched the rope. It continued down for a while, then stopped, remaining slack; it jiggled around like a sea snake dancing in the ship's shadow; for a moment it seemed still, but then, as the longboat drew halfway to shore, it began to grow taunt. The mariner's face turned a whiter shade of pale as it gave a violent tug on the ship and there was a mighty rumble, as if every timber of the Christabel was groaning in resistance. Slowly, she gave way; slowly, she began to lean forward in the water; then her prow dipped and plunged downward, the rest of her following at an impossible angle, almost perpendicular to the water.
All four man watched, mouths agape, as the ship dove straight downwards into the sea. The longboat was pulled along in her wake, so forceful was her descent; then as her bow disappeared beneath the waves the pull ceased, the water surged back towards the shore, and the longboat, men, oars and all, hurtled towards the land.
The mariner took up rowing duties once more and the boat sped towards the shore. At last they reached it, and the mariner staggered out. He fell heavily in the knee-deep water, then half-lumbered, half-crawled onto the land. He remained on his knees, felled by relief and exhaustion, thanking God and Calypso and Neptune and Poisedon, any ocean god he could think of, for allowing him to return home. His words were reduced to inarticulate, overjoyed sobs. The other three men climbed ashore and approached him warily.
The hem of the hermit's cassock came into the mariner's view; he clutched it with shaking hands and kissed it reverently.
"Sheave me, Father, cleanse this soul of its sins! Free me from the ordeal I brought upon meself!"
The hermit stared down at him in wonder.
"And what manner of man are you? What is it we've just seen?"
The mariner looked up at him, eyes bedewed him emotion, widened with fearful remembrance.
"I be the soul survivor of the SS Christabel's crew, lucky to escape this ordeal with me life an' soul intact. Many's the time is th' past weeks since we left port that I longed for death beside me crew-mates, free from the guilt an' penance I was forced to bear. But now I'm free; and me crew-mates are free, passed on to the next world, and he's taken ol' Christie down to his ship's graveyard."
"He? Who is he?"
The mariner shivered and crossed himself, looking out again to the heavily rippling surface of the water, the only remaining evidence that the iChristabel/i had entered the bay at all.
"He as towed ol' Christie down to 'is locker; the devil of the sea, Cap'n Davy Jones 'imself."
And he crossed himself again with a superstitious shudder.
Somewhere else not too much later, in another night, on another ocean, a man leaned against the rail of a ship. A handsome Dutch fluyt she was, a vessel made for speed; but now she drifted languidly on the currents of a sea that appeared to be filled with stars, so brilliantly did it reflect the sky above; or did the ship in fact float upside down in the sky, which was reflected in the sea above it? It was no one's place to say, and no one, not even the current custodian of the locker, truly knew its nature. The ocean in all its forms was an elusive lady, her ways mysterious and her intentions unknown.
A great bird, its plumage the same dark, mottled hue as the ship's forlorn sails, perched on the rail at the man's elbow. A cord bound to its leg had been untied; a tiny vial attached to it had had both its sealing wax and stopper broken, its contents removed. The older gentleman at the helm watch the young man read his letter silently, his gaze knowing. The young man's brow was gently furrowed, his face suffused with a soft flush. With trembling fingers he held the letter to the place upon his chest where a man's heart resided; his head thrust back, he tugged off his bandanna and passed it over his feverish brow. His eyes were turned upwards, but they didn't see the stars that glimmered there; he saw a beauty that surpassed them, he saw only her face...
The helmsman felt a sad twinge in his heart, one of pity and longing on behalf of his companion. Obviously the letter's contents were of the most intimate nature.
The younger man returned to himself, turning the letter's leaves over in his hands. He had yet to read the last page. It was thicker than the previous pages, more blotting paper than notepaper.
What he saw there made him smile; the look in his eyes grew softer still. The fierce face of the captain gave way to the sensitive nature beneath. The look in his eye was truly tender, brimming with pride as he turned to the helmsman and held up the page for him to see.
The look was reflected in the helmsman's face; a silent tear slid unheeded down his cheek.
The message on the paper was simple; it was much spotted and smudged with ink, as though the hand that had written it had been unaccustomed to wielding a pen. The squiggly handwriting was that of a small child. It read simply:
fROm wiLL turner