Title: A Canopy of Green
Characters: Elizabeth, Norrington, Governor Swann, Gillette and Groves, Will
Genre: Man vs Nature, Adventure, Romance
Status: In progress
Word Count: 4100
Disclaimer: The characters are not mine. They belong to Disney or whoever owns the Rights to Pirates of the Caribbean. This is just for fun.
Summary: James and Elizabeth go on a picnic just beyond Port Royal and run into a few unexpected problems. Includes elements of a Regency romance. This story is the sequel to "A Moment's Weakness".
"Sir!" Gillette shouted practically in his ear. "Both Miss Swann and Mr. Turner fell out of the boat when it upended!"
Pushing the wet strings of clinging hair out of his green eyes, he looked across the surface of the river just in time to see two heads bob up to the surface. The two were close together, a good distance from the boat but closer to the shore than he was. Even from here he could see the terror in Elizabeth's brown eyes as the crocodiles started to turn from the boat towards the potential meals in the water. If he didn't do something and do it now they'd both be torn to bits. His pistol was useless as only a small section of the reptile's scaly back was visible and even his shot would do little damage if any. No, he needed a killing shot or at least one that would wound it seriously. Acting quickly, he tucked the pistol back into its holster and pulled out his sword. Gripping the finely made weapon in one hand, he felt anything but calm for he was about to do something insanely stupid. "Try to get the boat to shore. We'll need it."
James rose to a standing position, the boat rising and falling on the waves caused by its sudden drop back into the river. The swells, however, didn't bother his experienced sea legs and he kept his balance easily. Elizabeth was now trying to backpedal clumsily away from the quickly approaching crocodiles, fear and panic getting the better of her. Still, he was thankful he had allowed her to wear men's clothing instead of the heavy gown that would have dragged her under by now.
"Dive!" Will shouted as he easily grasped Elizabeth's hand and pulled her under after taking a deep breath himself. It was obvious that Mr. Turner was keeping his head and that perhaps with his help they could somehow keep her in one piece. The Governor would never forgive him if she got ate by crocodiles due to his stupidity. Still, he wasn't sure what advantage diving would give them if any. The crocodiles could swim better underwater than humans, their thick tails propelling them forward with incredible speed.
Without waiting a further second, James dove into the cold river. The ice water was a shock after the intense tropical heat; still it was nowhere near as cold as the open ocean. Sword still gripped tightly in one hand, he held his breath and swam underwater towards where he thought Will and Elizabeth were. The water was slightly murky around him and surprisingly deep, the current digging up leaves, silt and twigs. Thankfully most of the debris floated upon the surface and he could see for a good distance in the greenish-blue tinted water. He could hear the muffled shouts from his officers but he ignored them. No doubt they were shocked at his behavior. If Andrew wouldn't have stopped him, he would have jumped off the top of the fort that day to save Elizabeth. Even if he hadn't been in love with her, it would have been his duty to save her. But he did love her and he'd gladly risk his life to save her, even if it did seem very foolhardy. That hadn't been his fault, not entirely at least. He hadn't known she had been wearing some new sort of undergarment that had constricted her breathing just as effectively as a monstrous python. Still, he should have been paying more attention to her words that day instead of worrying about his own nervousness.
But this was his fault. He should have been more cautious and had insisted they go by land. He had no right whatsoever to risk her life so carelessly. Yet he had. It didn't matter that she had insisted on coming. She wasn't trained to fight; no matter how many swords she stuck into her belt. They would do her little good if she couldn't use them properly.
Kicking his feet, he propelled himself forward as fast as he could go; every nerve alert for the sudden appearance of a reptile. His heart thudded in his chest as the seconds ticked by, seconds that seemed like an eternity. Beams of sunlight shone down through the greenish water, helping him to see the watery world around him. The river's bottom was a jumbled mix of rotting tree branches, rocks, underwater plants that swayed with the current and small darting fish that hid among the plants. He swam on, determined to find them at all costs.
Then he did. He paused for a moment as he took in the scene before him, icy terror running through his veins.
Elizabeth and Will was tucked behind a fallen tree trunk that lay at an angle and was still relatively fresh, the young blacksmith jabbing at the crocodile with his sword each time it attempted to approach them. The sword thrusts weren't doing much to deter it, however. They were effectively trapped as well, as the steep bank was right at their backs. Nor was the tree trunk big enough to effectively protect both of them, but Will had positioned himself in front of Elizabeth, as any gentleman would do in such a situation. Elizabeth's hair floated above her head like a mystical mermaid but the effect was ruined by the look of terror on her face. Her slender hands gripped Will's shoulders as she was squeezed into the narrow gap between him and the unyielding wall of earth behind her. A few bubbles left her mouth and shot upward. It was clear at once if they left the safety of the tree trunk, the hungry reptile would bite their legs as they swam upward towards land. Yet if they didn't, they'd drown.
The water frothed with bubbles as the massive dark brown crocodile rapidly approached the trapped couple, it's long and narrow mouth open wide. It swam with a sinuous motion that was mostly propelled by its thick tail. Its body was covered in thick scales and rows of scutes ran down its back. It was clear this time it wasn't going to stop and Will ducked down, yanking Elizabeth with him. The powerful jaws closed around the upper part of the tree trunk just above their heads, snapping the upper section right off. Bits of wood floated around the ruined trunk as the reptile's mouth slowly opened again, releasing the crushed piece of wood with difficulty. The entire attack had taken only seconds and it wasn't over yet.
James knew he had to do something, but what? He could attempt to stab it in the eye but that was a very small target. Although he was a good swimmer and could hold his breath a decent amount of time, he was nowhere as maneuverable in the water as the reptile. It could dart and dive quickly, even twist about all without effort. The odds of him actually stabbing it in the eye were incredible.
The piece of tree trunk started to drift towards the river's bottom as the crocodile turned, spotting him hanging almost motionless in the water. Although its eyes were just tiny black dots, he could feel its deadly gaze lock right on him. With a mighty swoosh of its tail it was speeding directly at him like a ball from a cannon, its mouth open incredibly wide to reveal a pale colored gullet. Dozens of sharp, jagged teeth lined its jaws. Fear shot through him, as he had never faced anything of this nature before, yet he had his training to rely upon. So he held his sword out before him in a two-handed grip and hoped for the best, aiming at the reptile's open mouth. The skin inside should be soft and tender, unprotected. James was uncertain what was longer, his sword or the crocodile's long snout. If its mouth was longer he still could easily loose his hand or even an arm.
Then it was upon him, the sword's sharp tip sliding inside its mouth perfectly until it hit the glottis, forcing the sensitive flap wide open. The crocodile's forward momentum shoved the sword deeper and James was pushed backward, the sword's hilt punching him in the chest with the reptile's brutal force. Pain shot through him but he had managed to hang onto what little air he had left. A wild rush of bubbles exploded from the crocodile's mouth and it started to thrash wildly, twisting and turning in the water as the surrounding icy liquid rushed into its lungs. Just managing to avoid being knocked unconscious from its twisting body, James swam away from it as quickly as he could. To his relief, he saw Will was already guiding Elizabeth upward towards the relative safety of the bank, only their kicking legs visible. Without wasting a moment, he hurried upward after them, his legs kicking and lungs starting to burn. Then his head broke the surface and he greedily breathed in a big lungful of air. His hands scrambled at the sandy bank to gain purchase and then two pairs of hands gripped his, hauling him out of the water.
As soon as both shoes were firmly planted on the small strip of sandy beach, Elizabeth threw her arms around him and kissed him with lips still cold from the water. Her brown eyes glistened with joy and happiness. "I was so worried! I thought it was going to kill you!"
"I think I killed it…" James told them as he gently detangled her arms from about him and shoved them both further away from the water, a firm hand on each of their backs. Streams of water ran off his body and his white shirt had became semi-transparent again, the slightest hint of skin tone visible through the fine material. The tropical heat beating down upon him was a wonderful relief after the frigid cold water and he would have enjoyed it, but duty came first. "It appears to have drowned somehow…"
"How could it drown?" Elizabeth asked clearly bewildered. "Crocodiles live in the water or so they seem to. It certainly had no trouble biting that fallen tree underwater!"
A shiver passed through her at the memory.
"Stabbing it in its throat clearly damaged something, but I have lost my sword." James replied as he shoved his wet hair out of his eyes. Pausing, he scanned the two before him. Although Elizabeth was clearly shaken, she appeared to be unhurt and she still had the extra sword hanging from her belt. It was clear she had lost the first one the moment she had struck the water due to her lack of training. Will, being more experienced, had hung onto his with no problems. The blacksmith was also unhurt and the ex-commodore felt a surge of gratitude towards him. Without the young man's presence, Elizabeth would have probably tried to swim directly for shore and the hungry reptile would have caught her easily, chewing a leg off. "You are to be commended, Mr. Turner. Your quick thinking clearly has saved Miss Swann's life."
"But you were the one that killed it." Mr. Turner replied honestly as he turned, eyes watching the water uneasily. "There's still the other one and it may leap out of the water at any moment."
The loud retort of a pistol broke the silence, the sound coming from their left.
"That way!" James shouted as he took off down the narrow strip of sand that was no wider than a man's outstretched arms. Water squished inside his shoes and it felt like his feet were sliding inside them with each hurried step. Small clouds of sand were kicked up as he ran and soon his buckled shoes were coated with a fine layer of gritty beads. The river was to his left and the thick wall of the rainforest to his right, the lush greenery swaying in the soft breeze that blew past. As it was still morning, long shadows from the towering palms cast the narrow beach in shade. Birds sang and darted overhead, uncaring of the human's ordeal with the crocodiles below. Another retort was heard and his heart ached with worry.
Then the longboat came into sight. It was only pulled partway up onto the sandy strip, the last two feet of the vessel missing; the wood at the broken area jagged and rough. Footsteps led away from the boat towards the dense jungle. A second trail of prints ran almost parallel to the human prints, but these were clearly reptile in nature and there were signs of the long tail dragging in the sand. James followed the trail with his eyes and soon spotted his two officers. Somehow they had managed to climb up a tree, not the typical palm but one that had many branches, some of them close to the ground. The tree grew right at the rainforest's edge and was laden with green fruits. They were both huddled as high as they dare go less the too-thin branches break from their weight. Both had their pistols out as they clung to branches one-handed. The crocodile was at the bottom of the tree, hissing loudly through open jaws. It was clearly angry that its meal had escaped up the tree and its long thick tail slashed at the air.
Will and Elizabeth joined him a moment later next to the ruined longboat, a gasp escaping from her startled lips. James didn't need to see her face to imagine her widened eyes at the sight.
"Are there sharks in the river, too?" Elizabeth asked. "Surely the crocodile didn't do this. That tree it bit must have been partly rotten already…"
"Apparently, ones that are near sixteen feet long can do that…" James replied as he took a moment to study the giant reptile, as it lay on its belly at the base of the tree, angry. It had a long narrow snout filled with sharp teeth, the lower teeth clearly visible when its mouth was closed. Its back was dark brown, almost the same shade as wet tree trunks when they floated in the water. This was excellent camouflage that helped it catch unwary prey. Rough scales covered its entire body and rows of scutes ran down its back. It had powerful legs and as he had seen yesterday, it could move surprisingly fast when it wanted to. It hadn't spotted them yet but surely it was just a matter of time. That or it would hear them.
He still needed one to show the Governor and it would have to be this one apparently. He would have preferred the smaller one but as its carcass was probably already swept away or at the bottom of the river somewhere, so this one would have to do. Still, he didn't relish the idea of catching it at all. Killing it wouldn't be any easier. Still, he was an expert shot. The reptile he brought to the Governor didn't have to be alive; a dead one would be far safer to move and transport. James suspected killing the first one underwater had been a lucky accident, something he couldn't count on happening again. It was the only bit of good luck he had been gifted with in a long time. Reaching onto his belt, his hand found the long metal rod that Will had been kind enough to make him. Pulling it free, he attempted to prepare himself to face a second charging crocodile.
Elizabeth was at his side in a moment, eyes filled with fear as she gripped his arm with both hands. "You're not going to try to catch that, are you? It's worst than the other!"
"I can't let it roam free. Look what it did to the boat." He replied. Even if he hadn't lost his commission, he'd still be out here to remove the threat to public safety. "There's little food in this area to feed something that size. How long do you think it would take to swim to Port Royal, attracted by all the smells and noise? Now please go somewhere safe before it starts charging at us."
Just at the moment the massive crocodile turned away from the tree, its body scraping the sand. It's eyes landed on the three of them standing next to the ruined boat. James could see faint light reflecting off the two tiny eyes on the top of its head and the frightening jaws parted to reveal large triangular white teeth. He shifted his grip on the long pole, wishing he could have practiced using the device first. How was he going to get the rope around its neck? The head was almost entirely all jaws. He tried to guess how he should swing the pole, but that depended on what the animal did. Would it charge directly at him? Or would it run at one of the others?
The very next moment it somehow was already halfway to him, its heavy body raised entirely off the ground as it raced at him, jaws open wide. James heard Elizabeth shriek from behind him and saw her darting form from the corner of his eye; she was apparently taking his advice and racing to safety. Tightening his grip on the metal rod and bending his knees slightly should he need to leap out of its path, he saw it change course to chase after his betrothed! The reptile raced right past him, within a few feet, and he swung the pole. His aim was true and the thick rope slid over its open jaws to slide along its scales until it came to a sudden stop around its throat. James braced his legs but even then he was knocked off his feet. The crocodile was dragging him through the sand without apparent problem; still, he wouldn't let go of the pole.
Then Will leaped onto its back somehow. The crocodile stopped its mad rush after Elizabeth, apparently shocked and confused by the sudden weight upon it. The blacksmith was sitting on its bumpy, scutes-covered back like a man sits upon a horse with a leg on either side. Taking advantage of its moment of stillness, he leaned forward and quickly covered its eyes with his palms. Then Andrew and Theo joined him on its back, their added weight helping holding it still for the moment. The two lieutenants had apparently climbed down from the tree when they saw the reptile was being caught according to plan. Both had stunned expressions on their face, as if they could hardly believe what they were doing. Will, however, looked determined.
James climbed to his feet quickly, tightening his hold on the metal pole. It was then he realized he had a problem. This crocodile, truthfully, was a monster. It could probably throw all three men off its back quickly once the shock wore off. They needed to tie its mouth shut now! But he couldn't let go of the pole and none of the others could get off its back… And where was the rope?
Realizing she wasn't being chased any more; Elizabeth skidded to a stop and looked back. Removing the red marine jacket in a hurry, she rushed to Will's side and spread the jacket over its face to make his job easier. Her brown eyes were wide and although she looked nervous, she wasn't outright horrified as most females in her position would be. She had the sense to flee when necessary, yet she was willing to face it as well. In fact, she had made his job of lassoing it much easier by playing the bait; otherwise it would have simply run him down like a bull.
"Get the rope!" James shouted at her, remembering he had seen the rolled length in the bottom of the ruined boat. She hurried past him on the assigned errand and quickly returned with the large coil. Seeing as he had no choice, James realized he would have to switch places with her. He knew how to tie proper knots, ones that wouldn't come undone even during angry storms and she didn't. Tying its mouth shut was the top priority and then perhaps they could secure it to a sturdy tree. "You'll need to hold this so I can secure its mouth."
Quickly they switched places, Elizabeth's brown eyes growing wider. She wasn't thrilled with her new position and the metal rod wouldn't hold that croc away for long. Still, her brows furrowed and the same determined look appeared on her face.
James took the coil of rope and quickly tied a sliding loop knot on one end, then approached the reptile cautiously from the side. He could tell the giant reptile was starting to grow annoyed, the newness of the situation wearing off. Before long it would be uncontrollable once more. Bravely stepping right next to the long jaws, he pressed one hand on top of the snout's end and applied all of his weight, forcing the partly open mouth shut. Acting quickly, he slid the coil of rope around the snout's end and pulled it tight. He secured it further looping rope around and around the deadly jaws until he was satisfied, tying it off. He next tied the marine jacket onto its head. If it couldn't see anything it may behave better. Finally its legs were next. This was much harder due to how the crocodile was made, but he finally settled for the easier route: tying the front and back legs of one side together with rope. When that was finished, they all breathed a sigh of relief and the three men could climb off its back.
James didn't want to admit it, but the ordeal had shaken him quite a bit. Sweat beaded his brow and his palms were damp, his heart beating too fast within his rib cage. His entire life had flashed before him when it had run after Elizabeth. What if he had missed? What if Will leaping onto its back hadn't brought it to a halt? It could have bucked him off and bitten him just as easily as stopping. He would rather face a shipload of the most ruthless pirates than another crocodile. Pirates he knew and understood. This, this was something different. It was a true predator. How could something this size be living so close to their community with no reported deaths?
It was then that Elizabeth asked the question James hadn't truly thought of yet.
"That thing must weigh one thousand pounds! How are we supposed to get it back to Port Royal?"
The ex-commodore studied the crocodile for a moment, uncertain. He still had some rope left. Could they build some sort of raft or other contraption? "The easiest would be for someone to walk back to Port Royal for another boat or better yet, a barge; something with a flat bottom that could fit on the river…"
Will, meanwhile, had wondered off towards the thick undergrowth of the rainforest as his sharp eye had spotted something nearby. A piece of dingy off-white canvas was poking out among the green. Gripping the end, he pulled and a large sheet soon revealed itself. It had been crushed into a sloppy ball and stashed under the lush plants clumsily. It appeared to be a chunk from a sail. "I think someone stashed something over here…"
Joining the blacksmith, James started pushing plants aside and soon saw the broken remains of a large wooden crate. Lush vegetation had been chopped and hastily piled atop it. Rum runners? No, that made no sense and judging by the size, this wooden, slat-sided container had been very large. "So, someone did dump the crocodiles here. They most likely used this piece of canvas to cover the creatures while they moved them up river past our very eyes. After the criminals left, the creatures broke the crate and escaped into the water."
To be continued…
Author's Note: The crocodiles featured in this chapter are not the American crocodile (which live in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean as well as in Florida) but the Nile crocodile – known for attacking humans. The American crocodile generally hides on people.