It was like a miracle.
A blessed and dizzying miracle visited upon her right when she thought her time was finally at an end.
Evie still paused to wonder frequently if it were true, if it really were happening or if perhaps was actually some fever visited on her finally by too potent a combination of cacao leaf and gin.
Tortuga was bustling again.
She had thought it mere fancy at first, some months earlier, when it seemed there were one or two more ships dropped anchor in the port. But every day seemed to deliver a new shipload of delirious pirates and sailors, chomping at the bit to begin spilling coin, spilling rum and spilling seed. And once again there were not enough whores for them all and Evie found herself struggling to keep up with the demand.
She'd not been quite this busy since her golden years, between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, when she'd had the full bloom of youth upon her along with the intoxicating complement of experience.
And though by the end of the night her cunny burned, her back ached and her lips were swollen and she was so bone weary in body and soul that she was oftentimes already dozing in mid-stride from her door to her bed, Evie flourished beneath her renewed success. It seemed that she walked taller, smiled broader and that the burden of several hard years lifted from her countenance so that she appeared younger.
The men could whiff out her good temper and it made her the more attractive to them, more even than many of the young ones could be, grumbling about being over worked and taking each new gent with an sigh. They could afford such ingratitude!
Evie once again brushed her hair one hundred strokes a night and brushed her teeth twice a week. She even mustered energy enough to get down to the docks at dawn for a new dress or two. Now she had enough each night to put some back into her secret cache of money, something she had not been able to afford for some years, and the fact made her swell with joy.
There were rumours and murmurings; that the East India Trading Company had fallen to a cordon of pirates made up of the Brethren, but they were merely rumours and murmurings. Evie had heard a little of the supposed Brethren over the years, had heard whispers that such and such pirate was one of the supposed nine Lords, but had never had any confirmation of such things and rather thought it might be more pirate fancy, and they had rather a surplus of that.
Whatever the case, it seemed the Company were no longer so interested in regulating the actions of pirates, and the seas were responding, the swell of each wave delivering some new leaky vessel filled to bursting with men eager to make a fortune and live free and the whores of Tortuga, what were left of them, rejoiced.
A whore could once again afford to smile and wave to her neighbours and Black Ruth's little tavern was once again a jolly place. Evie played the girls in friendly games of cards and allowed herself to loose regularly so as to keep tempers friendly. She had no time now to play the men, for they were rather more interested in her other skills, and though Evie missed the game she was never much one to pine for what fortune she didn't have over what she did.
But for all this, it could not be said Evie's happiness was perfect. It would happen, sometimes once a week, sometimes more; that she would open her eyes suddenly to look at the sweating, grunting face of whatever fellow was upon her and feel her heart suddenly run cold. And all about her would seem strange and foreign to her eyes, to her very touch, as though she had only just realised that all of this was a dream; that what she thought was her life was merely the fevered twitchings of sleep and that her real life lay somewhere on the other side of the thin film of the night sky that hung above her. To feel the solidness of the fellow's shoulders seemed implausible, the wind on her cheek mere whimsy, even the chink of gold in her pocket felt unreal. And she would squeeze shut her eyes again and swear that with the dawn she would sell off her belongings and leave Tortuga. And each new night she would awaken once more and find herself breathless at the thought and she would resolve to stay on, just a little longer.
And it would happen, though less often, that Evie would douse all but one candle in her cramped and dark room, and fetch from a false panel in the base of her dresser, a little music box whose tune had long ceased to play. She would sit in the centre of her bed with the drapes shut tight about her, and fetch from inside it a ruby necklace that she would put about her neck, a gentleman's ruby ring that she would put upon her thumb and a set of pearl combs that went into her hair. Then she would arrange the rest of the assorted miscellany from the box upon the coverlet and survey it. A piece or two of shining gold with patterns pressed into it that she thought were especially pretty (and he who gave them to her knew she would think so), a deck of cards so worn and faded they were no more useable, a pipe with a broken stem, and other such seemingly meaningless pieces of junk. One by one she would take each piece into her hands and remember the moments that it had come into her possession. Sometimes these thoughts would bring to her lips a curving little smile, even an outburst of laughter; sometimes they would provoke hot tears she might choke down with gin or allow to fall. Sometimes it could be both, and that was most wretched of all.
But she tried not to make too much a habit of this practice; for she would be sick of heart for days afterwards and it put the men off as though they could smell it like a sickness upon her.
It was a balmy clear night that The Black Pearl sailed once more into the port of Tortuga and the waters were calm.
Tensions on the ship, on the other hand, were running high, for the Pearl was in the unusual position of finding herself with two Captains and neither willing to acquiesce to the other.
"And I say we drop anchor a half-mile from shore, leastways we find ourselves vulnerable to intruders!" Barbossa spat, eyes savage upon Jack's browned face, who pulled an expression of some incredulity.
"It's Tortuga!" Jack retorted and Barbossa leaned yet further in.
"Exactly!" He hissed and Jack threw up his hands.
"Less work for the lads though, if we pull right in, what with emptyin' and restockin' it all, have a heart there, Barbossa." And he raised his voice just a notch or two so that what crew were about might hear and Barbossa scowled.
"I not been a Captain nor became a pirate lord for near thirty years by bein' soft, Jack Sparrow, and I'll thank ye to remember that." Then abruptly, he straightened and smiled in a dangerously soft way. "But mayhaps ye be right lad, for to be sure we'll need to stock well for the journey we have ahead of us."
"Precisely!" Jack jabbed a finger at the air and smiled ingratiatingly. "Glad you can see reason."
And Barbossa smiled a trifle wider.
As the crew went about the task of tying the boat up at the dock, Sparrow and Barbossa debated the time they were to be in port.
"No less than seven nights, says I, so as to give the lads time enough to make merry and satisfy their desires to their full for to be sure we have a long venture ahead of us and there may be little opportunity for revelry along the way." Barbossa stated as though it were already fact and Jack made a show of contemplating the proposal with a finger to his lips and brow furrowed. Barbossa could not quite restrain a roll of his eyes and then mocked: "Have a heart there, Jack." Hissing the name through his teeth as though he intended to make a meal of it.
Jack blinked then smiled, throwing his hands up. "Right enough there, Hector. Seven days it is. Agreed. I imagine you have a lot to catch up in the way of earthly pleasures as it were. As for me – well – "With a deliberate sidle of his eyes to Barbossa, Jack said nonchalantly: " - there's a certain flame-tressed wench I have a desire to reacquaint myself with." Barbossa whipped a furious glare upon Sparrow in spite of himself and Jack sniffed as though he had not noticed. "Wonder what sort of mood Scarlet will be in." and lurched away, Barbossa's flint-like eyes hard upon him still.
Sparrow strode the dock until he came in line to where Gibbs was already in negotiations with a plump young brunette.
"Mr. Gibbs!" Jack announced. "It has been decided between Captain Barbossa and myself that we shall set sail once more on the seventh dawn of our anchorage so be certain you and the lads be ready to make sail upon the fifth, leastways we find ourselves stranded with nought but an empty barrel of rum and Hector's infernal laughter ringin' in our ears for our trouble. "
Gibbs pondered the statement for a moment before realisation dawned in his eyes and he returned the command with a grin and a salute that didn't quite make it to completion.
Jack grinned and inclined his head. "Good man!" and continued to make his loping way upwards into the heart of Tortuga.
Onboard the Pearl, Barbossa stood on the main deck and shouted down to the crew who were busy finalising the last tasks of securing the ship and emptying the old cargo.
"Right then, mateys, head first into port then and be sure to take ye fill of wine and women both in generous quantities, but mind ye be back here and ready to make way three dawns from now if ye don't wish to be left behind! Make haste and be gone with ye then!"
Shouts of 'aye' filled the air as the crew hastened about their work, eager to get into the port and find their pleasures and Barbossa surveyed the bustle with satisfaction, a chuckle rumbling deep in his throat. Then he limped down the stairs and onto the plank that led to the scurvy solid land of the town, intent now upon his own purpose.
Giselle was having a splendid night and enjoying every moment of it. A lot had changed on The Black Pearl over the last twelve or so years; there had been times when its anchorage had meant merry-making and times when it had been only a cause for fear – and under the same Captain both! That blasted Jack Sparrow – that pretty boy with the lying tongue! – had had it for a time as well and that had come to mean for her a curious mix of pleasure and vexation, though it was usually more the latter than the former, with the former being just tantalising enough that memory of it had her enduring the latter on more than one occasion. And then it had been Barbossa – a pirate whose name was well known and no mistake about it – and, it seemed, with his possession of the vessel all causes to celebrate his anchorage had fled. Giselle knew her dear old chum, Evie, had suffered much at the brute's hands, but the rest of his crew had not been much better, those she'd encountered anyway. Not like this sweet fellow here, with his eye patch and shy smile. He was a crewman of the Pearl and it seemed the ship had encountered different fortunes again.
Of course, the Pearl was not the only ship with so chequered a history, but there'd been few that had encountered mishaps quite so colourful and Giselle blinked her kohl-rimmed eyes over the rim of her tankard, lips slightly agape and tried to keep pace with the lanky lad's tumbling tale, interrupted at frequent intervals for embellishments and additions by his two companions. Giselle had been about long enough to know that these two, though mature men of whatever-and-thirty, were newly turned and as intoxicated by their recently acquired trades as a China-man on his opium fumes.
Though their garbled recountings were difficult to follow, she was able to discern, or at least supposition, that their most recent venture had very much been a life and death sort of situation, and this made all three of them very generous with his coin.
Most important of all, all three had his attention fixed very squarely upon her. As soon as she reached the frothy dregs of one tankard, another filled her hand, and she sat perched upon the bar of The Mermaid's Tail having to do not much else than smile lavishly and flash a pearly-white thigh on occasion as they each strived to outdo each other for her most focused attention. For a girl as advanced in years as Giselle, she considered this a mighty boon indeed and was calculating how much she should ask for the three of them at once, or if she should just charge each separately, when a shadow fell over their little group, and all three of the men turned to take stock of the newcomer, only to fall silent in humble subjugation. Giselle, head reeling all the more from the generous quantities of ale combined with yet another abrupt adjustment in the direction of her little coterie's moods, blinked rapidly at them, before dragging her gaze to the interrupter and then feeling a great clutch on her heart as though the Devil had reached up through the earth below, through the solid wood of the bar, right up inside her and squeezed hard.
For what she beheld was surely a ghost.
Captain Barbossa stood there, tall and square shouldered, his eyes as flint-like and his bearing as regal as it had ever been. A grinning monkey in pirate's garb sat upon his shoulders. Her three suitors each saluted him in their turn, led by the lanky fellow who touched his hand to his forehead and murmured "Cap'n". The two squallers from Greenland stood up rather much taller, jutting their chins out and fixing their gaze straight ahead, as though they expected their Captain to inspect their carriage. He barely glanced at them, apart from a single half-lidded shot, his full lips curled in the scantest of smiles that was at once indulgent and superior, before turning his attention quite completely to Giselle, who opened and shut her mouth, painted red and glossed with egg yolk, like a fish caught for some poor sailor's supper, fapping about on the docks.
"Evenin' Miss," Barbossa breathed, his voice soft and rumbling as a distant storm. "Apologies, but I recall not ye name."
Giselle's lips fixed themselves shut with a pout. Well, a ghost indeed! He was no such thing! Flesh and blood, as sure as her quim. And it was no great surprise after all – for had it not been Jack Sparrow who had bragged of vanquishing the brute once and for all? And if there was anything a lass should know, it was that the word of Jack Sparrow could not be trusted, nay, not even on whether the night was dark and the day bright! Obviously he had got rather much carried away with yet another sun-and-rum induced fancy of his and it was these ruminations on Jack's penchant for fabrication that prompted her to smile saucily at the Captain and lift a bare shoulder to him, momentarily forgetting her old chum Evie and her sufferings at his large and weather worn hands.
"Giselle is 'ow I'm known 'ere abouts, but for a gold piece I'll answer to anythin' you care to call, Cap'n Barbossa."
He bared his teeth as though in amusement but made no sound, moving forward so that his crewman each fell aside to make way until he was side by side with the whore, one elbow resting comfortably on the bar and his eyes quite level with her own, looking upon her in such a way that she felt a tickle down her spine and dismissed it for a tendril of hair, escaped from its highly-piled arrangement. The monkey blinked great dark eyes at her, its wrinkled little face strangely resembling that of a babe's.
"Giselle." He said, the name seeming to escape between the spaces of his teeth. "Tell me, my sweet. Ye were once much about these parts with another girl, a redhead."
Giselle suddenly recalled Evie's red eyes, swollen with tears, her bruised mouth and worse, her fits of melancholy humour, Evie who'd been born to a whore's life and who'd yet found herself vexed by a virgin's curse in her dealings with this man. Her flirtations ceased and she drew herself up sharp, turning back to her tankard with careless disinterest.
"Scarlet, you mean I s'pose?"
Barbossa's great hand whipped out, gripping her wrist and arresting the passage of her tankard before it could quite reach her lips.
"Ye know of whom I speak." His voice was hard with warning and she stiffened. "Where be she this eve?"
Giselle felt herself bridling. Did he think she'd never known the back of a man's hand! She continued on with deliberate nonchalance: "Well now, m'dear, it's been a few years since you was 'round these parts and things 'ave a like to change awful quick – girls leavin' town or droppin' down right dead in the streets - - "
Barbossa said nothing, merely tightened his grip and she realised he would kill her as soon as beat her and that it wasn't worth it.
"She's about." She surrendered sullenly. "Saw 'er with a bloke a while ago. Try the Duck and Swan. She fancies that joint these days."
Barbossa released her suddenly, smiling widely. Giselle did not grasp her wrist, though it throbbed, merely continued her drink in silence and Barbossa withdrew a piece of gold from his pockets and slipped it inside her bodice, one calloused finger flicking against her nipple. The monkey chirruped and grasped hold of its tail, blinking at her cheerlessly. She steeled her jaw so as not to flinch, staring above the heads of her three companions who remained silent and obsequious in the presence of their Captain.
"Thank ye kindly, Miss Giselle." He hissed before turning a sharp eye to his crewman. "Enjoy this wench well and pay her as befits the pleasure lads," he barked, and the skinny one almost dared a smile, though the two greens merely gulped and gaped. Giselle felt a burn upon her cheeks at the cold weight of the gold against the curve of hr breast. Then he was gone, his wide shoulders pushing their way through the men that crowded around the bar, the monkey upon his shoulders twisting around to screech at them at he made his way into the chaos of the tavern, the blinking light of the dim candelabras quickly obscuring him from their sight.