Disclaimer: the same as before.
- This is it! The last chapter! I can't believe I've managed to write the whole stuff. "A cry in the darkness" is my longest story so far, and I doubt I would have finished if not for the encouragements and words of praise from my wonderful reviewers. Since some of you have asked for a sequel, I will start to write one in a few weeks. It will be called "Turners together"; keep your eyes peeled!
- A big "Thank you" for Ariane Lim and her help, her beta-reading and her sharp eyes. You're the best!
- "A pirate's life for me", lyrics by X Atencio, music by George Bruns.
- "Danse macabre" is French for "Dance of Death": in the medieval times, painters often represented men and women dancing a farandole with skeletons. These paintings were called "Danses macabres" and it was to remind people that they would end up in a grave, no matter how rich or influent they'd become in life.
- Ichthyology is the science of studying fishes.
Chapter 31: Sail away!
In the waters by the Flying Dutchman…
A rope tied the Sparrow Hawk to Ammand's longboat, and Jack turned about as the Flying Dutchman sailed away from the two tiny boats. Bootstrap Bill was waving at him and he answered with his usual panache, trying very hard to ignore his hurting fingers – the older man had given him quite a bone-crushing handshake before Jack had left the ghost ship!
The silver-tongued pirate would never admit it out loud, but he was sad to leave the Turners behind him. Five years down, five to go before the notorious Captain Jack Sparrow could recruit Will, Lizzie and Bill to serve under the mast of his brand-new ship, the Black Pearl II. He would need real people – real pirates – to help him accomplish his great projects, but he had to wait five more years before he could recruit the only people who had ever showed him affection and loyalty. Curse that stupid Davy Jones!
At least Jack had departed on good terms with the Turners, instead of being chased away by pistol shots, cannonballs or sharpened swords, as it had been the case various times with his former "associates". He could even say he had surpassed himself with this rescue mission: freeing his little brother while retrieving some rainy-day money, ridicule Red Hand Pete and summoning the help of a heathen deity at the same time, all this without getting a scratch on his body… he was definitively the unsurpassed Captain Jack Sparrow!
His new crewmembers were also watching the Flying Dutchman distance itself from their boats, but none of them shared with their Captain his sense of loss. In fact, the guys seemed relieved to see the ghost ship departing – apart from Wang Tao, who seemed lost in his thoughts. Even with Davy Jones being gone for a long time, sailors were still weary of the Dutchman. No wonders here, that fluyt's name had been synonymous of death, slavery, abominable deformations and everlasting damnation. Will had worked hard to redeem the vessel's reputation but somehow, Jack got the feeling that the Flying Dutchman would still be infamous for centuries to come.
Oh well, as he had once said to Gibbs about the Black Peal: "It's only a ship, mate". Who cared if that floating bunch of planks carried a nasty reputation forever? As long as Will was freed from it after ten years, the Dutchman could sink to the bottom of the sea for all Jack cared. In the past, he had considered taking over the command of the ghost ship in order to gain immortality; but it had been one of the exceptional occasions where Captain Jack Sparrow had been wrong. It hadn't been a good idea. In fact, being covered with shells and slowly melting into the Dutchman's hull while losing his precious brains wasn't a good way to become eternal – but Jack had been too stubborn to admit it at the time. It had taken Will's fatal wounding to make Sparrow realize that immortality à la Jones led only to anger and madness. Only a pure-hearted man – like his adopted baby brother – could survive being Captain of the ghost ship with his love and his soul intact... and then, his faithful bride would break the decade-long curse.
Jack waved one last time at Bootstrap Bill, and then the Flying Dutchman slowly disappeared behind the horizon. Jack had kind of hoped Will would come on deck to wish him good-bye, but the kid had been too weak to get out of bed; Jack couldn't blame him for this, though: in fact, a man who had survived constant torture for a week while being starved and feverish, without confessing the location of a treasure, was worthy of being praised by all the Pirates of the world. Ammand knew it, as well as the Dutchman's crew, so by all the hurricanes of the Caribbean isles, Will deserved a rest!
Jack was glad he had been allowed to share a few words with the kid. Of course, their reunion would have been better over a flagon of rum, but… Oh! Speaking of which….
The ex-Captain of the Black Pearl snatched his compass out of his weapon belt and opened the lid. The disk turned on its axis three times, and then it stopped in the direction of the North-West.
"Ah, ha!" exclaimed Jack.
"What is it, Captain?" asked Marty.
Jack looked up and saw his new crewmembers looking at him with round eyes, while getting comfortable in the boats… and it wasn't easy. Murtogg, Mullroy, Pintel and Ragetti were in the longboat, vainly trying to gain some extra room on the benches. Marty, Cotton and Wang Tao were sharing the Sparrow Hawk with Jack, and the dinghy was overcrowded – in fact, only Marty's short stature had allowed him to remain onboard, otherwise he would have had to transfer on the longboat. Nonetheless, the Sparrow Hawk was at high risk to sink or to capsize under a violent gust of wind, so making port at all haste was an absolute necessity.
"Well, my stout – er, stout-hearted – fellow, it seems to me that a case of overpopulation is currently happening in our mighty boats. Since I'd hate to imitate any of Hector Barbossa's behavior, I will subsequently refrain from the action of throwing one or two of you overboard to relieve the aforesaid nautical marvels we are sailing in. Consequently, it should be a mark of great seamanship to order you lot to break your backs over the longboat's oars, all this to reach a patch of dry land named Tortuga where we'll all be able to step on it, thus preventing us from saluting our ancestors – quoting Mister Wang Tao – in a premature fashion, savvy?"
"What?" asked Pintel, obviously not understanding a word Jack was saying.
"Short and sweet: grab the oars, mates! We're heading for Tortuga!"
Murtogg and Mullroy obeyed at once and reached out for the oars, but Mullroy dropped one in the water and he almost capsized the longboat when he tried to retrieve it. His acolyte didn't fare any better after he accidentally hit Ragetti over the head with his oar – but it didn't knocked out the one-eyed man, since his brains were too tiny to be damaged by a direct hit on his skull.
"We're headin' for Tortuga, Cap'tain?" asked Pintel.
"Took your smart-potion today, haven't you, mate? My, you are making progress! So I expect you to continue your efforts by leaning on your paddle to propel our joyful company in the direction of the most extravagant island of the Caribbean!"
"But Cap'tain! Since a rope is tying our longboat to yur dinghy, it wuld be better if we go to Tortuga by using yur sail!" protested Ragetti. "It wuld be less tiring fer us!"
"What? The Sparrow Hawk's sail will remain secured good and tight! In case you haven't noticed, you weird-looking scoundrel, my mighty boat is holding four passengers; however, it has been designed to carry only two persons. Therefore, the dinghy is currently in grave danger of ending floating belly-up, like a deceased animal belonging to the ichthyologic science branch. All this could be quite damageable for my shining personality! Consequently the Sparrow Hawk will be towed by the longboat you are currently warming the benches of with your posterior, and the four of you will row hard until we've reached our destination, savvy?"
Ragetti remained agape for five long minutes, and finally he got the idea after Pintel told him to "Stop babbling and start rowing, you stupid scarecrow! Or we'll be Tortuga in six months". He chuckled stupidly, grabbed an oar, and then he let it fall across his knees, looking completely puzzled.
"But Cap'tain… Does that mean Marty an' Cotton won't row wif us?"
Jack sighed loudly, burying his head in his hands. A handful of idiots, two tiny boats and not a drop of rum in the neighborhood… It was going to be a long trip!
"This thin-bodied and thin-brained specimen of a pirate used to be a member of your crew, Lord Captain Sparrow?" asked Wang Tao.
"A beauty, isn't he?" answered Jack, and then he shouted: "Silence! The four of you in the longboat, row! I'll give you the direction to follow and with luck, we'll reach Tortuga in the evening. Now pull at the oars and soak your foul-smelling shirts with sweat, otherwise your pirating career will come to an abrupt end!"
Pintel and Ragetti grumbled for the form, but started rowing. It took a longer time for Murtogg and Mullroy to comprehend the mechanisms of their new tasks, but a few punches from their shipmates helped them to follow the rhythms of the man-powered mean of locomotion. The longboat headed for the direction of the North-West, pulling the Sparrow Hawk along and soon, Pintel and Ragetti started their usual string of arguments.
"You're pulling too hard," complained Pintel.
"You're pulling too slow," answered Ragetti.
Jack rolled his eyes heavenwards: some things never changed!
"Please forgive me for asking a question, Lord Captain Sparrow, but I would like to be enlightened about our respective futures once we had reached the turtle-named island," said Wang Tao. "To be precise, I would like to know what will happen to my modest person."
"Eh? Well, Mister Wang Tao, it's up to you," replied Jack. He hadn't really thought of what he would do with the Chinese spy/executioner after Red Hand Pete had been properly dealt with. "You can join my crew, if you wish to do so…"
"I am quite honored by your generous proposition, Lord Captain Sparrow, but much to my extreme embarrassment I have to decline it. Since I have fulfilled the work my clan's elders have deigned to entrust me with, I am under the obligation to sail back to China and deliver them the undeniable proof of my late cousin's demise."
Jack grimaced at the powder bag Wang Tao was holding in his hand. Blood had maculated the cloth, especially at the seams. He didn't know what kind of "souvenirs" the Chinaman had picked up from Long's pulverized body during the boarding of the Conqueror, and he certainly wasn't going to inquire about that matter. It would be quite repugnant!
"Ahem! Yes, you are a man on a mission, no doubt about it. And I haven't been one to press-gang people into my crew, since I consider this kind of action to be the absolute perversion of piracy, which is originally based on freedom. Well, Mister Wang Tao, since you are determined to return to your homeland, feel free to go ashore as soon as we reach Tortuga's harbor. There will be ships anchored there and," added Jack with a gold-and-silver smile, "I think you will be able to hitch a ride back to China."
Wang Tao bowed to Jack in order to hide his own smile; he certainly hadn't had any trouble climbing aboard the Seref unnoticed, much to Ammand's fury. So hiding in the hold of a ship planning to cross the Pacific via doubling the Cape Horn would be a piece of cake for him.
"I thank you for your understanding, Lord Captain Sparrow. Be assured your name will be praised in China as a fearless commander, an astute strategist and a resourceful man of action, who has managed to dishonor Red Hand Pete's name for centuries by sheer genius."
"Oh, let's not exaggerate!" said Jack, purring like a cat from the compliment. "Red Hand Pete was a small fish who didn't have a chance against my intellect; in fact, I could have sent him to Davy Jones' Locker with a flip of a finger, if he hadn't had my friend hostage. And for the sake of all sailors, I just couldn't let Red Hand Pete to obtain Captain Turner's powers, now, could I?"
"Indeed, Lord Captain Sparrow. Your intervention has saved Lord Captain Turner, the Soul Vessel and every seaman from a major catastrophe. Rest assured your feats will be accurately detailed to the leaders of the Red Dragon Clan, who happen to have quite an influence in our homeland. Your reputation will grow until you become the most famous European pirate captain known in the Orient."
Jack couldn't hide the twinkle of pride glowing in his obsidian-colored eyes. World-wide fame… That fitted his idea of immortality to a "T"! Millions of people across the globe would learn about the incredible Captain Jack Sparrow. There would be books translated to all kind of languages about him, thousands of images printed to perpetuate his unique personality. Actors would portray his character in plays, much to the enjoyment of large audiences yelling "Bravo" and "Encore", applauding like crazies at the end of each representation. The authorities' representatives would hate the ruckus created by his popularity and they would try to censor those plays, making people even more eager to see them. One smart businessman would distill rum and name it "Captain Jack Sparrow's favorite", selling thousands of flagons!
The mere thought of his favorite drink made Jack snap out of his reverie, and he yelled in the direction of the longboat:
"All right, you quartet of skivers, move it! I want to reach land before sunset. On to Tortuga!"
Pintel, Ragetti, Murtogg and Mullroy pulled harder at the oars, making the longboat and the dinghy move faster. Jack glanced at the compass in his hand, and the fleur-de-lys needle was still settled in the direction of the North-West. The magnetic marvel indicated only the deepest wish of its holder's heart, and right now Captain Sparrow wanted nothing less but a whole barrel of Tortuga's best rum. That's why Jack had never been worried about getting lost in the middle of the ocean: he just had to think about a certain beverage and the compass would point to the closest location where he could find some rum.
Jack smiled, without paying any attention to Pintel and Ragetti's complains. Once he had reached Tortuga, he would A) get gloriously drunk B) pay a visit to Scarlet and Giselle C) get a ride to England to buy his ship, since he had changed his looks to rescue Will so nobody would be able to recognize him and D) sail back to the Caribbean and start a business as… a treasure hunter.
Yes, that was what Jack had been planning to do these past few years, because the Age of Pirates was coming to an end. The maelstrom fight had been the last-ditch battle of the Brethren Court. The vessels carrying wealth from the Americas to Europe were becoming too well-guarded; maps were getting more and more detailed, giving away the pirates' hideouts; there were also rumors of revolution in North America against the British; ideas of liberty, democracy and equality of all before the laws were taking root in the French people's mind.
All this was spelling trouble for pirates, since political uncertainty meant a reinforcement of the armies and the navy. Besides, Jack had never fancied violent action, much to the everlasting incomprehension and disdain of his esteemed peers. But his motto was: "Why fight when you have leverage?" And Captain Jack Sparrow certainly had a major advantage over the common flea-infested outlaws: he was the proud owner of sagacious brains. As a man gifted with superior intelligence, he had been able to elude the various authorities' representatives who hadn't appreciated his law-breaking tendencies to gain what he wanted. He had also managed to fool backstabbing colleagues and his prudent seamanship had allowed him to avoid meteorological disasters – unlike Commodore Norrington, who had tried to chase him in spite of a hurricane near Tripoli. The poor fool!
So Jack was the perfect man to investigate the whereabouts of sunken ships, and organize diving teams to retrieve the booty lying on the ocean's floor. The Caribbean was renowned for its tempests and its reefs, and many vessels had been lost with all hands over the years. Ships carrying gold and silver from Mexico, rich passengers with fortunes stashed in heavy coffers, religious objects made of precious metal… all this was his for the taking. No armed guards under the sea to guard the lost treasures, no bothersome authorities to take the gold away from him before he could start to have fun! Just dive, swim to the wreckages, and shovel the gold as if tomorrow never existed.
"Grab everything, and give nothing back!" said Jack to himself, making Marty and Cotton look in astonishment.
But to launch his new occupations, he would have to have a fine ship – a copy of his Black Pearl –, a loyal crew – with the Turners, father, son and daughter-in-law – and, above everything else, the location of the Fountain of Youth: Jack would need a lot of time to retrieve all the sunken treasures of the Caribbean, and he couldn't let old age slow him down.
Captain Sparrow feigned scratching his belly under his torn shirt, but his fingers merely felt for the leather pouch holding his rainy-day money. Oh yes, there was enough cash in it to realize his projects. At last, he would become filthy rich; he would buy his own island and the British Crown won't be able to do anything against him! Between two hunts, Jack would rest on the porch of his big beautiful house and drink rum endlessly in the company of beautiful ladies. The Turners would live in a house nearby his, raising a new generation of adventurers while the Black Pearl II would be anchored in a little creek, safe from tempests and ready for another quest.
"Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate's life for me!" suddenly sang Jack. His strange crew looked at him with rounded eyes, not really understanding why their leader would start singing the famous pirates' lyrics, and then they all joined in the choruses, including Wang Tao:
"Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!
We pillage, we plunder, we rifle and loot
Drink up me hearties, yo ho
We kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot
Drink up me hearties, yo ho!
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!
We extort, we pilfer, we filch and sack
Drink up me hearties, yo ho
Maraud and embezzle and even high-jack
Drink up me hearties yo ho!
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!
We kindle and char, inflame and ignite
Drink up me hearties, yo ho
We burn up the city, we're really a fright
Drink up me hearties, yo ho!
We're rascals, scoundrels, villains, and knaves
Drink up me hearties, yo ho
We're devils and black sheep, really bad eggs
Drink up me hearties, yo ho!
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!
We're beggars and blighters and ne'er do-well cads
Drink up me hearties, yo ho
Aye, but we're loved by our mommies and dads
Drink up me hearties, yo ho!
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me…"
The late, damned and unlamented Lord Cutler Beckett had been wrong – again- about his prediction.
Pirates would never disappear; they would just have to evolve in their careers.
In the Dutchman's Great Cabin…
Will Turner blinked, and then he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He had gone to Dreamland right after Jack's departure, but he didn't know for how many hours. It had seemed only a minute ago since Bootstrap Bill had came back from the upper deck to sit by his bedside, closed Will's eyes with the palm of his hand and said: "Sleep well, my darling."
Exhausted by both his ordeal and his prodigious healing, Will hadn't been able to do anything but obey his father's tender order. The rest had done wonders, though: the bouts of dizziness had passed and the crippling weakness was gone from his muscles. Apart from his growling stomach, the young man felt as good as new, ready to start another round of soul-ferrying. Rays of sunshine filtered through the cabin's windows, illuminating the wooden floor in purple and gold colors. From experience, Will knew the sun would be setting soon.
He stretched under the covers of his comfortable bed and then, he heard a soft noise; raising his head from the soft pillow, Will spotted his father, sitting slouched in the armchair next to his bunk and sound asleep. The elder Turner was snoring, lost to the world but his boneless fingers were still folded around Will's wrist. Even in sleep, Bill kept vigil over his son, ever-ready to defend him from any kind of enemy.
"Papa…" thought Will while feeling a warmth growing inside his chest, just under the red scar.
How could he ever thank his father for getting him out of Red Hand Pete's clutches? The young man had really thought he would die on the Conqueror, alone and in chains. There were no doubts in his mind that he would have talked in the end; Shiao Long's tortures had been very thorough, and many had been the times the words "I will talk" had burned on Will's lips. He remembered the night when a drunken Red Hand Pete had come to the orlop deck with the cat-o'-nine tails, promising him a swift death if he confessed the location of the Dead Man's Chest. But Will had remained silent, so the Conqueror's commander had threatened him with mutilation, rape, quartering and dismemberment. In the end, fed up of the young man's courage, Red Hand Pete had used the whip until Will had lost consciousness. His last thoughts had been to say farewell to Elizabeth, since he had been sure that this was the end.
But during all that time, Bootstrap Bill had relentlessly sought allies to save his son, and he had succeeded in convincing Jack to play an important part in the rescue. The elder Turner didn't have a clue about Red Hand Pete's motives, and he didn't even know which direction the brig had taken after it had attacked the Flying Dutchman, and yet he had never let discouragement or despair cripple him in his search. Nothing had mattered to him except finding Will, and he would have gone into the bowels of Hell for his child. Bill Turner was a hero, plain and simple; too bad he was too modest to realize it!
Will looked at his father: even relaxed in sleep, Bootstrap had some extra worry lines around the mouth and at the corners of his eyes. His long grey hair, escaping from his loose ponytail, was partially covering his stubble-covered face. Bill probably hadn't slept a wink since Will's abduction, and he must have eaten very little food; and yet he had fought like an avenging angel against Red Hand Pete's sailors and Shiao Long, showing vigor and strength that could have competed with that of a twenty-year-old.
The young Captain felt sorry for his father's state of tiredness, and for a short moment he considered waking up Bill to tell him to sleep in his bed so he would avoid getting cramps or a stiff neck. But Will dismissed quickly this idea: his father would adamantly refuse to leave and he looked too deep in slumber to be awakened, anyway.
Will sat in his bed, drew off the covers and dropped his feet on the floor. He got up and remained still for a minute, reassuring himself that he could stand without feeling any kind of dizziness. Will looked around, and saw something that made him smile: a pile of clean clothes had been folded on a chair and some food had been left on the table, as well as a shaving kit, a wash basin and a pitcher of water.
"Papa, you think of everything!" whispered Will.
He walked towards the chair and pulled on a hose, stockings, dark hard-wearing linen pants and his second pair of sea boots, and then he drew on the puffy-white shirt. Getting dressed felt marvelous for the young Turner, as it was erasing the souvenir of the sailors' mockeries after they had stripped him. Confiscating garments was a method tormentors used to inflict the maximum of pain on their victims, but also to humiliate them. Will remembered Red Hand Pete's cruel smile while looking down at his "rival", lying naked and wounded on the orlop deck's planks, at the mercy of the Conqueror's commander.
Will shivered at the recollection of that memory, and then he reasoned with himself: he was back aboard the Dutchman, he had been saved by Jack and his father and he had nothing to fear. Red Hand Pete would never hurt him again; it was time to move on and to lead his ship. Some souls were wandering out there, begging for help and he wouldn't let his kidnapper forestall him in his mission by haunting his thoughts.
Will poured some water into the basin and he soaped his hands and face, and then he had a quick shave. When he was finished, he tied a colored sash around his waist and put on his belt, just before tying his deep green bandana around his head. His stomach's growls had increased to the point of becoming unbearable, so he calmed them by wolfing down the food left by his thoughtful father: oranges, eggs, sea biscuits, cheese and bacon, washed down by cold tea. Will had never been so ravenous in his life but, paradoxically, the more he ate and the more his stomach felt lightened.
After he had finished his meal, the young man got up and walked towards the bed. Bill Turner kept on snoring in the armchair, too exhausted by the recent events, but Will wanted to make his father more comfortable. He grabbed at one of his bed's blankets and draped it on Bootstrap's inert form, and then he took the pillow and placed it under the tired head. Bill never moved a muscle during the whole time, but the ghost of a smile appeared on his cracked lips.
Will gently kissed his father's face, and whispered: "Sleep well, my big-hearted Papa."
He stepped out of the Great Cabin and closed the door quietly behind him. Then Will climbed on the main deck, ready to take his command, meet his men and listen to distressed souls calling from across the ocean.
Hours later, inside the Dutchman's Great Cabin…
Bootstrap Bill woke up in a snap, clutching the blanket to his chest. The room was dark, except from the moonlight pouring from the windows' glass panels. The ship was silent, except from the occasional creak coming from a beam or a plank; the Dutchman was tracing its way in a slow, rocking motion, leaving behind a long line of foam on the sea's surface.
What had happened? The last thing Bill remembered was the sight of Will's beautiful face lying on a pillow, and then he had decided to seat on a nearby chair "just for a minute", until he would be sure his son would rest peacefully. Bill pushed down the beige blanket covering him, cursing himself for falling asleep while guarding his son's dreams. What in the world kind of a watchman was he?
"Bootstrap, you are really the king of idiots!" thought the tall man angrily. "It wasn't the time to sleep on the job, you old fool! Haven't you learned your lesson about letting your guard down so someone could snatch away your treasure? Besides, if Will had awakened to ask for something, like a glass of water or a piece of fruit, you would have snored your head off instead of providing him with…"
The elder Turner got on his feet, making the pillow fall on the Great Cabin's floor, and he felt his heart jumping right in his throat before falling back inside his chest: the bunk was empty! Will had disappeared! Red Hand Pete had come back, and he had kidnapped his William again!
Bill felt like gagging and screaming at the same time; he looked around in a panic but after a few minutes, his heart stopped its infernal banging against his ribs: the clothes he had left for Will were gone, half of the food on the table had been eaten and the wash basin had been used. The ex-pirate glanced at the blanket still entangled on his tall frame, at the pillow lying on the wooden planks, and then he sank back down in the armchair, sighing loudly in relief.
Will wasn't gone; he had simply woken up and left his father to his rest. It was night now, and his son had washed and eaten before stepping on the Dutchman's upper deck, fulfilling his duty. But he had wanted Bill to feel more comfortable while sitting in the armchair, since the elder Turner's size and bulk made moving him almost impossible. Will was such a caring, thoughtful young man. Qualities he had inherited entirely from his mother, of course!
Bill picked the pillow from the floor and put it back on the bed. Then he got up on his feet and folded the blanket before putting it on the bunk as well. Night had come, and listening to the souls of those lost at sea would be easier for Will to hear: in the nocturnal stillness, his son could "hear" a cry from miles, and Bootstrap Bill had no doubts they would soon carry ghostly passengers.
He splashed some water on his face but didn't bother to shave, and then he took a biscuit from the table and chewed on it noisily. Then the older man re-tied his hair in a ponytail as best as he could before dashing away from the Captain's quarters, still mortified for falling asleep and, even worse, for not hearing his William awakening. He was the poorest example of a First Mate the sea had ever seen since its creation. He was supposed to help his son, not to shirk his tasks!
Under the silvery glow of the moonlight, the Flying Dutchman was glowing like a ship made of ivory. The men on duty were doing their chores, talking amongst themselves quietly but occasionally glancing at the young man standing at the helm, as if they wanted to be sure their commander was truly back. Will was leaning on the quarterdeck's rail, his eyes fixed on the ink-like sky. His long locks of hair were floating gently in the breeze and his eyes were shining like the sparkling stars enchanting the heavens.
Bill climbed up the stairs leading to the quarterdeck; he briefly saluted Larkins, who was behind the Dutchman's wheel, and then he stood to attention before his Captain.
Will detached his gaze from the sky and turned around to see the tall man right behind him, his eyes fixed on his boots.
"Did you have a good rest, Mister Turner?" asked Will.
"Begging your pardon, Captain," said Bootstrap, using the official tone the Turners employed when in front of the crewmembers, "I fell right asleep. Begging your pardon, it won't happen again."
Will could hardly believe his own eyes: his father, who had saved him from a terrible danger, was acting as if he had just committed a crime by sleeping off his exhaustion!
"Mister Turner, I deliberately let you rest. It was the least I could do, after you risked life and limb to retrieve me from Red Hand Pete's clutches."
"But I'm the Dutchman's First Mate, Captain!" protested Bill. "I should have taken my post and minded the ship until you'd be fit to command us again. Instead, I slept like the great big oaf I am and…"
"Papa," said Will with a lower voice while discreetly taking his father's hand, "Please stop it. You were dead on your feet, and I would have hated myself if you had fallen ill. Any man in your stead would have slept for days after such an ordeal. I can see you are still tired, and yet you are here on deck, ready to help. Are you sure you don't want to go downstairs and rest some more?"
"I'm sure, son. Please don't make me go to my cabin," answered Bill in a whisper. "I prefer to be at my post, if you don't mind. It… It has been a terrible week and… and I'd rather stay with you, instead of lying in my bunk and wondering how you are faring upstairs."
The elder Turner looked up and saw a glorious sight: Will was smiling at him and it was the "special smile", the one his son gave only to him.
"Very well, Mister Turner!" said the young Captain aloud. "I am grateful for your presence at my side."
"It is my pleasure, Captain," answered the older man in the protocol way they used while on deck duty. "May I ask in which direction we are heading?"
A shadow passed across Will's handsome face, and his father got instantly worried again. What could be bothering the young man?
"We're heading for Isla de Muerta, Mister Turner."
"WHAT? WHY?" exclaimed the Dutchman's First Mate, his blue eyes widening in shock. Isla de Muerta was now an accursed place after the Conqueror had sunk under the weight of a humpback whale. Many men, including Red Hand Pete and Long, had met a terrible doom and their ghosts were probably haunting the waters near the island. And there was also the matter of the few Conqueror's survivors who had stuffed their pockets with Aztec Gold: they were probably improvising a dance macabre on the Island's beaches!
At Bill's loud outburst, Larkins had jumped in fright behind the wheel and several sailors turned their heads in the direction of the helm, wondering what was happening. Will raised a palm in a calming gesture and then he looked at his father straight in the eyes:
"Papa, I have to go there. The men told me Isla de Muerta was where Jack and you fought Red Hand Pete and his minions, meaning… men had died at sea, and their souls must be floating on the water, desperately looking for a way to reach the Other Side."
"Well, they can wait until the Earth explodes, for all I care!" said Bootstrap Bill, gritting his teeth in a terrible effort to keep his voice low. "Those bastards… They deserve no less for kidnapping and torturing you! Never, not even on my deathbed, will I forget the wounds you have sustained. And Jack told me that some of the crewmembers actually enjoyed hearing you screaming in pain. They made you suffer more than I dare to imagine, simply because their coward of a Captain wanted immortality for his own selfish purposes. They were gutless scum, the whole bunch of them!"
"But we still have to ferry their souls, Papa," said Will gently. "And I am not saying this only because it is my duty. Whatever those sailors had done to me, they are now dead and I can't refuse to transport them because of their vile actions. Believe me, it will be very hard for me to see those men again but I cannot ignore the cries of their souls. Once they'd be aboard the Dutchman, I know I'll be able to… forgive them."
Bill felt his jaw hitting the deck's planks. Will wanted to grant forgiveness to his enemies?
"Oh, my Little One…"
"Papa, these men have paid the ultimate price for all the evil deeds they have done in their lives. I'd like to give them a chance to reach the Other Side; maybe they'll find redemption or maybe not. Who can say? All I know is, I want to help them reach the Netherworld, instead of letting their souls drift aimlessly on the ocean. This is something I want to do, Papa, and I need to do it. Can I count on your support?"
Bill Turner couldn't answer for a long moment; his mind was reeling with furious images, the worst ones were imagining Red Hand Pete whipping his William, his Chinese advisor torturing his son, the snickering faces of the Conqueror's sailors who were enjoying the cries coming from the orlop deck and taking bets on how long the prisoner's endurance would last. His father's heart was still screaming in rage at the thought that Red Hand Pete had dared to lay a finger on his child, and Bill was convinced that all the torments of Hell wouldn't be enough to punish the Conqueror's commander. If it rested entirely upon the elder Turner, he would load the Dutchman's cannons and fire them at the enemies' ghosts until he'd ran out of gunpowder or munitions!
But one look at his son's dark-brown eyes made Bootstrap Bill feel ashamed: whatever torment he had suffered after the abduction, it was nothing compared to the pain Will had endured. The recovery of his body and mind had been nothing but a miracle. Any man in his shoes would have turned his back on Isla de Muerta forever, vowing to never see it again. And yet, his child wanted to ferry the souls of the men from whom he had suffered beatings, tortures and starvation, because they were now dead and Will – pure-hearted Will – just couldn't let them drift on the sea for all eternity. Because his son didn't want revenge against the souls of his dead enemies, he wanted to help them.
Bill felt tears gathering in his eyes and he blinked furiously to keep them at bay. His son… His marvelous son was definitely better than him! Will was a hero, a knight, an angel in both appearance and soul. By his actions, he was giving a lesson in generosity and forgiveness to his stubborn old man and Bootstrap Bill wondered, for the millionth times, what good he had ever done in his life to deserve a son like Will.
"Please forgive my stupidity, Little One. Once again, you've proved you're a much better man than me. Deep down, I know you are right. We cannot refuse to ferry souls, even if they belonged to despicable persons – I'm just too angry to admit it. But you can count on my full support, son. I will help you ferry the souls of the Conqueror's crewmembers to the Other Side."
"It may not be an easy task, Papa," whispered Will. "Some of these souls may refuse to be ferried by us – especially those of Red Hand Pete's and Long's!"
"You think they might fear we would avenge ourselves on them?" growled Bill Turner, his blue eyes hardening at the thought that someone could accuse Will of any wrongdoing.
"Aye, or maybe they could be too frightened of whatever is awaiting for them on the Other Side. We ferry souls there, but we don't know what happens to them afterwards."
Bill sighed, and then he briefly squeezed his child's fingers.
"Well, I understand you want to give them a choice, son: they can come with us and take their chance with the Other Side, or they can keep on floating on the ocean forever; but they will be free to take a decision. But you won't abandon them crying in the darkness, just like you did for me."
"You are so courageous, my William; so courageous and generous. I am blessed by your presence in my life. Without you, I would have become nothing but another tar-covered corpse swinging at the end of a hangman's rope. But your love, your wisdom and your strength make you shine in the night, like a lighthouse in a tempest. You are my son, my hero and my redemption. You… are… everything… to me."
Sapphire eyes met chocolate-colored orbs, and then Bootstrap whispered very softly:
"I love you."
Will smiled, and then he stepped closer to his father. Bill, realizing what was going to happen, blurted out precipitately:
"Will… Ah, Captain… We're on deck, Captain… In front of the crew…"
But the tall man couldn't say anymore because Will hugged him with all his might. Bill instantly wrapped his arms around his son, holding the precious life close to his broad chest, and Will let a luminous smile spread on his lips. Let the crewmembers watch. Let them see their Captain had the best father of the world. Let them be the witnesses of the deep affection that existed between the Turners.
Bill pressed Will's head against his torso and the young Captain could hear his father's heart, "the secret", beating beneath the neglected shirt. Th-thump, th-thump, th-thump, th-thump, th-thump, th-thump, th-thump … The beautiful sound which gave Will the power to endure his duty and his separation with his adored Elizabeth, the rhythmic music of life, love and hope and one day, he would hear it inside his own chest again.
The two men ended the hug, and then Will asked:
"On the wheel, Mister Turner?"
"Aye, Captain," answered Bootstrap Bill with a wink.
He turned around and motioned to Larkins to leave his post, just before grabbing the wheel's pegs to change the direction of the rudder. After a short while, the Flying Dutchman docilely inclined its sails towards the East, heading for Isla de Muerta once again.
Bill checked the boom's position with the indications of the binnacle's compass, but then he felt observed: it was Larkins, who was still standing in front of him with an ironic smile on his face.
"You want to ask a question, Mister Larkins?" asked the Dutchman's First Mate, slightly annoyed by the man's presence.
Larkins shook his head derisively, acting as if Bill was completely clueless and the tall man really didn't understand the sailor's attitude; finally, Larkins answered:
"Aye, Sir! 'Tis sumthink we shipmates hav' been wunderin' abbat fer years now, so if ya don't mind…"
"Ask away, Mister Larkins."
"Well, it is this: what took ya so long ta hug yur kid on deck, Mister Turner?"