A/N: The writing challenges last week at the Broken Compass were individualized for each participant by another, rather than everyone writing something to respond to a single word prompt.
My challenge, provided by Barbossa'sMonkey, was this:
Sometime before the battle at Isle de Muerta, Barbossa has an intense conversation with Cutler Beckett which involves tea, a Pelegosto cannibal, near-childish insults toward family members, mentioning of Jack Sparrow at least once and their swords. And the kicker? It must all be connected to each other somehow in some way so that one thing, person, word or event is caused or causes another. Have fun!
This is my response -it kinda took on a life of its own as I tried to plausibly include all the requirements. It takes place a year before the events of CotBP, and I indulged in mentioning my own OC, Cutler's older brother, Charles Beckett. Hope you enjoy!
Oh, and I couldn't resist a turn tossing Barbossa in a dark cell, Stephanie! :D
Wicked Like the Troubled Sea
But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. Isaiah 57:20 King James Version of the Bible
The clang of a distant steel door reverberated throughout the dimly lit dungeon that was the jail of Port Royal, reaching the last damp cell, and waking Hector Barbossa from his sleep. Opening one eye where he sat leaning back against the cool stonework, he glanced down the short hallway that led to the door, slightly curious. It seemed as if someone were finally entering his part of the prison.
The muffled voice he heard was familiar, yet finding he had little interest in the doings of Lieutenant Norrington, he closed the eye he had scanned the hall with, and tried to resume his nap. He might have done so, even as Norrington's voice became clearer and therefore, probably nearer, if it weren't for the second voice that apparently answered the lieutenant.
It was a woman's voice.
The thought of a woman being present in the dungeon piqued Barbossa's curiosity much more than Norrington's entrance had, and he raised his head from where it rested against the rough wall and glanced down the hallway again, looking and listening with considerably greater interest.
It only took a minute for a wry smile to pull at the corners of his mouth, for it seemed as though Norrington was not at all happy with the woman who had accompanied him.
"Elizabeth, please be reasonable," Norrington was saying. "What would your father think of me if I should let you down that hallway?"
"So, this is about you, then, is it, James?" the woman had replied back. Barbossa couldn't see her yet, but he thought he caught a measure of amusement behind the sarcasm that laced her words.
"Of course not," Norrington replied, sounding somewhat exasperated, "but it is my duty to look after you, and your father will not be pleased..."
"Do I really need you to look after me when they're all behind steel bars?" the woman had asked him, exceedingly polite venom dripping from her words.
Even Barbossa could tell that there was more to her question than appeared on the surface, and he sat forward further and craned his neck to try to catch a glimpse of the woman who spoke.
Norrington pleaded, obviously becoming more frustrated. "Elizabeth, please. The jail is no place for a proper lady to be, especially the gov..."
"Oh pooh, James. Don't tell my father and he won't have to worry about it the way you do," she said with a light little laugh. "I just want to see one, that's all."
Norrington sighed, a sound audible now that the pair was turning the corner of the hallway, whether he'd intended it or not. "Really, Elizabeth, this preoccupation you have with pirates is, well, unhealthy."
"I am not preoccupied," the woman named Elizabeth replied haughtily. "It's just a curiosity I have."
The couple rounded the corner, but Norrington had quickly stepped in front of Elizabeth in order to halt her progress, and all Barbossa had seen was a flash of a fine dress and the creamy skin of a bare shoulder. Curious about this woman who was fascinated with the thought of meeting a pirate, he stood and went to the front of the cell, leaning a hand on each of two bars.
"Elizabeth..." Norrington began.
"Oh, stop Elizabething me and let me by," she scolded him, whacking him lightly in the arm with the folded fan she carried, and stepping around him determinedly with her skirts lifted in her other hand.
Catching sight of the beauty who strode purposefully in his direction, Barbossa found himself equally curious about her, and unconsciously leaned closer to the bars he held onto, his eyes raking over her face and her hair quickly, and then traveling lower to assess the rest of her. Perhaps she was not as curvy as the women he was used to, but that didn't mean she wasn't absolutely stunning.
She stopped suddenly, halfway down the hallway, her hand dropping her skirt and flying to her delicate throat. Apparently, seeing the pirate she had been curious about regarding her like a crouching predator from behind the bars had given her cause to stop.
Barbossa stayed motionless, waiting to see what she would do. He knew from her vantage point that all she could see was his lurking silhouette, and he did nothing that might keep her from venturing closer. At that distance he couldn't see her as well as he'd like to, but he got the impression that she'd be even lovelier up close. He snarled wordlessly but softly when Norrington once again stepped in front of Elizabeth.
"There now, you've seen your pirate," Norrington said. "Come away at once, or I shall have you escorted out."
Despite the fact that she had boldly ignored Norrington at first, the young woman named Elizabeth at last turned away, glancing once over her shoulder at where Barbossa stood behind the bars. He found himself wondering if it was the threat of Norrington's words or that of his own silent, shadowy presence that had caused her to change her mind about getting any nearer.
Disappointed that he'd not gotten a chance to see her in closer proximity, nor a chance to actually speak with her, he found himself watching her retreat carefully.
"Fascinating creature, isn't she?" a soft voice asked from the nearby shadows, and Barbossa shifted his gaze and his attention to the speaker.
An short but elegantly dressed man in a perfectly coifed and powdered wig stepped out of the darkened corner, where he'd obviously come in by a less well-used entrance. "Wouldn't you say, though," he purred, "that Lieutenant Norrington is right, and it would be considered unhealthy for her to have a fascination with pirates?"
"Depends on how far her fascination goes," Barbossa replied simply, letting the subtle implication hang for the newcomer to see or not.
"Apparently only as far as the middle of the hallway," the finely dressed man said, glancing at the spot where the woman had decided to venture no further, "however, my own fascination with pirates goes considerably further."
"'Tis a shame then, that me own fascination be with the lady," Barbossa replied dryly.
The younger man outside the bars snorted once lightly with amusement. "And it would be a shame that you currently can do nothing about that fascination, wouldn't it?"
"Aye," Barbossa replied flippantly, "steel bars do tend to get in the way."
"Bars? Oh, I wasn't referring to the bars," the newcomer replied, running a hand absently up and down a portion of one of the rungs between them. "I was referring more to your other current situation."
Barbossa narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "What situation?"
"The one that's going to make things incredibly and morbidly interesting when they try to kill you by hanging tomorrow." He let the words hang between them in the dungeon for a long moment, still examining the way the cell was constructed.
"So, ye know of the curse," Barbossa replied, trying to sound casual and disinterested. "And you are?"
"Oh, how entirely rude of me. Since I know who you are, Captain Barbossa, I forgot that you might not be aware of who I am. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Cutler Beckett."
"Beckett!" Barbossa snarled. "Yer brother to that gutless bastard!"
Beckett looked somewhat amused. "Oh, that's right, you know my brother well, don't you?"
"Aye, I know the son of a whore," Barbossa snarled back.
"That would be my mother you'd be speaking of as well, Captain," Beckett warned quietly.
"Then I guess that'd make ye a son of a whore too," Barbossa spat back, "and likely a graspin', controllin', manipulative snake with no balls to speak of, like yer brother."
"You're being rude," Beckett said quietly.
"'Tis not my fault if you Becketts can't properly bed a woman, and have to account fer yer deficits by turnin' bigger profits," Barbossa replied.
"Now, now, Captain," Becket said in a honeyed voice, although clearly displeased by the look in his eyes, "you are currently not in any position to be casting those particular stones...oh dear, I didn't mean that quite the way it came off, but ah, well, if it applies..."
Beckett glanced down the hallway briefly, in the direction the lovely young Elizabeth had just gone, to further emphasize the fact that bars or no, the curse Barbossa was under would not have allowed him to take advantage of her the way he might have at another point in time.
"What is it you want?" Barbossa snarled, pacing away from the front of the cells.
"As I told you, I have a fascination with pirates, and a certain pirate in particular," Beckett replied smoothly. "I think you know him. You are familiar with Jack Sparrow?"
"Aye, I know 'im," Barbossa spat back quietly. "What of it?"
"I long to satisfy my curiosity," Beckett replied, "and I think you might have a way to help me do that."
"Is that so?" Barbossa replied, effectively feigning disinterest.
"We both know it's true," Beckett said. "You see, I am about to return to England, for I have business there, and it would be ever so convenient to be able to bring Jack Sparrow back with me to trial...a sort of gift for my friend, the King. Of course, I plan on returning here as Lord Beckett, one way or another, but such a gift would ensure that the King would be both pleased and impressed."
"Huh." Barbossa merely snorted and seated himself again, leaning back against the wall and looking as if he were going to resume his nap.
Beckett waited patiently for any further comment from the incarcerated pirate, and receiving none, spoke once more before taking his leave from the dungeon.
"Think about the things I've said, Barbossa," he said softly. "I wager we have more to discuss this afternoon."
He turned and disappeared into the shadows from whence he'd come, and a moment later Barbossa heard the sound of heavy wood slamming home against stone.
Later that afternoon, Barbossa found himself once again being awoken by the sounds of the distant clanging metal door, and although he was considerably more interested in the female visitor to the dungeon from earlier in the day, he knew he was not going to have the luxury of ignoring the half dozen red coated marines that were now standing outside his cell.
After receiving an acknowledging word from beyond the door, the marine closest to Barbossa pulled it open to reveal an elegant room on the other side. Barbossa's assessment of the furnishings was cut short by two of the other marines shoving him forward brutally across the threshold. With his hands in shackles, he barely managed to keep his balance, and he snarled wordlessly at the two soldiers as his hat toppled to the floor.
"Here's the prisoner as you asked, sir," the first marine said, addressing Beckett, who sat behind an enormous desk.
Beckett didn't bother to look up from what he was writing. "Take those off of him," he said, "and then leave us."
"Sir?" the marine before the desk asked.
"Please don't make me repeat myself," Beckett replied, still ignoring the soldier as he wrote. Silence hung in the room as the marines glanced at one another questioningly, and at last the one with the key stepped forward to unlock the manacles that bound the pirate's wrists.
"Give him back his hat," Beckett said, dipping his quill in the ink on his desk and continuing to write.
The marines exchanged another set of odd looks, and then the first one picked up the plumed hat and handed it back to the pirate cautiously. Barbossa scowled at him and snatched the hat away, making a show of dusting if off before perching it back on his head. His venomous look followed the departing soldiers until the door closed, and he found himself alone in the grand room before the scribbling Beckett.
He waited a moment or two for Beckett to finish, looking about the elegantly appointed study with its large windows opening out onto a view of the harbor. It only took him a second or two to note the shadow sequestered beyond the fine draperies.
As Barbossa watched, it became apparent that Beckett had signed his name with a flourish to whatever he'd been writing, and then putting down his quill, stood up and addressed him.
"Come, please, sit down," he said, indicating a small but elegantly set table off to one side of the room. He seated himself on the far side, and indicated the chair across from him again for the pirate.
Barbossa sat, draping himself and a haughty attitude across the chair as he waited for Beckett to speak first.
"Tea?" Beckett offered politely. When he saw the look that crossed Barbossa's face, he adopted a contrived regret. "Oh, I'm so terribly sorry. My mistake," he said, withdrawing the cup of tea he'd proffered. "You don't mind if I do?"
Barbossa shrugged, unconcerned about the tea. He wanted to know what it was that Beckett was plotting.
Beckett took the time to stir two lumps of sugar into his tea and then tried a sip, appearing satisfied that it met his standards. "Now," he began, after he placed the fine china cup on its saucer, "I believe that you are a man who appreciates directness, Captain, so I shall be nothing if not direct."
Barbossa said nothing and his face remained impassive as he let Beckett continue.
"You may have something I want, and I have something you most definitely want, and so we are here to negotiate," Beckett said evenly.
"What makes you think I'd believe that ye'd strike a fair accord with a pirate?" Barbossa asked casually. "I'd wager that yer negotiatin' is naught that Lieutenant Norrington knows of."
"And you would wager correctly," Beckett said smoothly, the subtlest smile appearing with the words. "Norrington knows nothing, as does the governor, or even my dear brother. I find it preferable to work while unfettered by a multitude of differing opinions."
"Meanin' that the multitude differs from yer opinion 'bout negotiatin' with pirates," Barbossa said wryly.
Beckett's expression may have been a smirk for a brief moment. "Hmmm, yes, but I think you'll find that my negotiating is a little more creative, and that I am able to stay focused on the larger picture more effectively than say...my dear brother is." Beckett took another sip of tea before continuing. "I daresay he'd much rather just see you hang tomorrow, rather than take advantage of any usefulness you might present to the Company."
Barbossa eyed Beckett carefully from where he sat, skepticism infusing his answer. "While ye might be more creative in arrangin' an accord, what's to stop you from goin' back on it the second ye have what yeh want?"
"Why nothing at all, Captain," Beckett replied pleasantly, "but it's not really like you have much choice in the matter at present, now is it?"
Barbossa folded his arms across his chest and looked smug as he attempted to speak.
Beckett held up a hand to stay his comment. "Oh, I know, I know. You can't be killed in your present condition," he said, "but I imagine that letting them try to hang you is going to be thoroughly unpleasant, nonetheless. I'm quite sure it's something you'd rather avoid."
Barbossa nodded, thinking of exactly how unpleasant tomorrow could become. Hung by the neck until dead was going to prove impossible, and he didn't relish the thought of experiencing attempted execution. Not that hanging, or beheading, or facing a firing squad would have the desired effect, but while the blasted curse allowed almost no feeling at all, the one exception was the sensation of pain.
"Let's say I do wish to avoid tomorrow's events," he began, watching Beckett's neutral expression, "what is it you want in return fer helpin' me escape?"
"Helping you escape?" Beckett asked, his voice full of contrived surprise. "I don't plan on helping you escape, Captain, that would be illegal."
"Then what is it yer offerin'?" Barbossa asked.
"Something far more valuable to you," Beckett said, his gaze meeting Barbossa's steadily.
Barbossa snorted impatiently. "And what good would somethin' of greater value do me if I'm yet stuck behind bars here?"
Beckett gestured at him dismissively. "Captain, it strikes me that you are a man of resourcefulness who would take advantage of any opportunity that just might happen to present itself," he said meaningfully.
Barbossa understood what he was saying. Beckett would do nothing to directly help him get out of jail, but would likely arrange something like a slip in the guard schedule or a key carelessly placed too close to his cell...something that could be blamed on an incompetent underling.
"What do ye want?" he asked, eyes flicking to a slight movement beyond the draperies again and then back to Beckett.
Beckett leaned forward across the table even as he dropped his voice. "Jack Sparrow."
"What's he to you?" Barbossa asked.
"That needn't concern you," Beckett replied, "but I suspect that if anyone was aware of just where Sparrow might be found..."
"Haven't seen him in years," Barbossa said dismissively.
"Yes, ever since you took my ship from him," Beckett said pointedly. "Oh no, don't worry. I'm not the least bit interesting in the Black Pearl. My interest lies only with her former captain."
"She's with 'er rightful master as far as I'm concerned," Barbossa managed to say, "and as fer Jack Sparrow, if I'd seen him before now, he'd likely be dead."
"If you truly wanted him dead, I imagine he'd be so by now," Beckett said, pouring himself more tea.
Barbossa shrugged. "I've had more important things occupyin' me time," he replied.
"Ah, and so have I," Becket replied, "but I find myself in a position now to have more appropriate resources for dealing with my old friend." He set the teapot back on the table. "Let me again be direct, Captain Barbossa. In your extensive travels you are much more likely to get wind of where Sparrow can be found. You deal with pirates, merchants and sailors who have been all over the Caribbean, and ports wider flung than that. From this point forward, if you should so much as run across a harlot who drunkenly whispers his name, you will send word to me immediately."
"And in return?" Barbossa asked, thinking he wouldn't be opposed to Beckett catching up with Sparrow, but not liking the idea of being beholden to Beckett as a spy.
Beckett stood up and crossed to another table against the wall, and pulled open a long drawer, withdrawing an all too familiar sword. He also removed the rest of the weapons that had been confiscated when the pirate had been jailed, including his pearl-handled dagger and ornate pistol.
Beckett set the dagger and the pistol on the table in front of Barbossa, and drew the sword out of its scabbard part way to admire it. "This is quite an elegant weapon, Captain Barbossa," he said, replacing the blade and then setting it on the table, even as Barbossa claimed the dagger and the pistol.
He turned and indicated another blade that was mounted on the wall nearby. "That is one of mine," Beckett said casually, as Barbossa stood and hung his sword back at his hip. "What do you think?"
Barbossa glanced at the weapon and shrugged. "It's shorter than mine," was all he said.
Beckett frowned a little. "It was a gift from the King," he said, a trace of irritation slipping into his voice.
"And mine was a gift from a pirate," Barbossa replied with a smirk, "after winnin' me first duel at sixteen."
"He gave you his sword as a gift?" Beckett asked, mildly curious.
Barbossa nodded. "He let me have it right after I cut off his arm and he had no more use fer it."
Beckett smiled a little uncomfortably, glancing once at the blade he had returned to the pirate in front of him. "I see."
"Ye have no need to fear me usin' it, "Barbossa said, clearly reading Beckett's thoughts. "Cursed or not, I'd rather not be shot by yer lackey behind the curtains."
Beckett regained his composure quickly. "Yes, Mr. Mercer is an excellent shot," he said, glancing once at the shadowy form behind the draperies.
Bedecked with weapons again, Barbossa drew himself up to his full height and folded his arms across his chest. "Of course, I could cut yeh down and take the bullet if I were so inclined, but there's obviously somethin' ye think is worth my time, and I'm curious as to what that be."
Beckett said nothing but reached inside his waistcoat and withdrew a small velvet pouch. His eyes met Barbossa's piercing stare for a second, and then he turned the pouch over, letting its contents fall to the table next to the teapot.
Three gold coins with Aztec skulls upon them grinned malevolently up at Barbossa, who couldn't completely hide his surprise at what the carrot was that Beckett was dangling.
"There are nine more in a location known only to me," Beckett said quietly, "lest you think to cut me down and make off with these."
"Twelve coins?" Barbossa gasped, much to Beckett's satisfaction.
Beckett picked one up and examined it, casually turning it to view both sides. "I sense this is something you're interested in...twelve coins closer toward the end."
Barbossa knew that Beckett would know him to be very interested, but he also knew that Beckett had no way of knowing just how close it would bring him to the end. If he truly had twelve coins to offer, it would mean only one remained undiscovered...unless Beckett was holding back for some sort of future negotiations. He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "The nine others be all the coins ye have?"
Beckett adopted a satisfied smile. "Ah, I see. So the twelve bring you very close to the end. I would have upped my price had I suspected," he purred. "No, these and the nine others are all I have to offer."
Barbossa had no way of telling if Beckett was being truthful, but he picked up the two coins on the table and held out his hand for the one that Beckett was holding. After dropping them in his coat pocket, he proffered his hand. "Hand over the location of the other nine coins, and I swear that I will get word to ye by letter concerning Jack Sparrow, just as fast as the seas allow."
Satisfied with the outcome of their negotiations, Beckett shook hands with the pirate and then reached went to his desk and drew out a folded piece of paper which he returned to hand over to Barbossa. "My apologies about the handcuffs again, but I'm sure you understand."
Barbossa nodded as the six marines were summoned to bind him and take him back to his dungeon cell. If they thought it odd that the prisoner had been given back his sword, none of them dared question Cutler Beckett about it.
Interestingly enough, the very same six were given an assignment the following week, of which Mercer was also a part, and it seemed that tragedy struck the small group when one of them had fallen overboard and the others had tried valiantly to rescue him in shark-infested waters. None of them had escaped the jaws of the sharks but a very fortunate Mercer. Or so the story went.
While Beckett kept to his word and did nothing to help Barbossa escape from the jail, he did, to Barbossa's immense irritation, see to it that the pirate was brought a lavish final meal that night before he was to be hanged. At first, thinking that Beckett merely had a sick sense of humor, it suddenly dawned on the pirate, as he gazed upon the tray laden with food, that the wizened and hunched mute whose job it was to bring food to the prisoners, had re-hung the key to the cell, apparently absently and innocently, much too close.
When the detail of marines would arrive in the morning, along with James Norrington, to fetch Barbossa to take him to the gallows, they would find the cell empty yet locked, a tray of untouched food on the floor, and the key hung back across the room in its customary spot.
Barbossa sighed heavily, a subtle rattling sound made as the breath he heaved in mild exasperation rushed around the primitive blade that was protruding from his throat. His assailant, now cowering back away from the taller pirate, was dressed in little more than a loincloth, and various bodily adornments, including a string of beads around his wrist, the fine bones that pierced his nose, and a headdress of exotic feathers, marking him as a leader among this tribe of the Pelegosto.
None of those decorations interested Barbossa as he drew back his sword, but rather his interest had been captured by the new necklace of nine gold coins which lay heavily against the chieftain's chest. Apparently the dispatch sent to guard the small EITC outpost on Pelegosto island, at which Beckett had hidden the coins, had discovered only too quickly, that the natives had a penchant for roasted marines.
A torrent of unintelligible, frantic words was abruptly cut off by Barbossa's sword, as was the head that uttered them, and the pirate snatched the cord that bore the nine coins from the stump of neck left behind, just before the body they had graced crumpled to the ground.
Despite the chaos around him, which was rapidly diminishing as his undead crew made short work of the few warriors that hadn't already been cut down, Barbossa calmly wiped the blood off his sword on the headdress of feathers still atop the severed head, and then hung the blade back at his hip.
His crew cheered as he held up their prize, and then hurried off again in the direction of the cove in which the Black Pearl lay at anchor, while he followed along, lost in his thoughts of how far they had come from nine years before.
A month later, Barbossa sat at the table in the captain's cabin of the Pearl, hastily penning a note to Cutler Beckett. After a fruitless search in Tortuga for the final coin, Pintel and Ragetti had overheard a blonde strumpet telling a redhead that she expect a visit from Jack Sparrow within the month.
Taking his letter, which contained the information he'd gathered, and a bottle of rum topside, Barbossa went to stand near the rail, and yanked the cork from the bottle, placing it in his pocket while he raised the bottle and tipped its contents over the rail.
"Here's the toast ye'd drink to me, Jack Sparrow, if only ye knew. 'Tis enough to appease any vague mutters from my conscience, at least, and that's good enough fer me."
Barbossa smiled wryly as the bottle ran dry, and he inserted the tightly rolled letter to Beckett inside, following it with the cork retrieved from his pocket. He heaved it as far out to sea as he could throw it, and watched, satisfied that the bottle had remained intact after it splashed down, bobbing at the surface. "Aye, now go to Beckett, as fast as the seas might carry ye," he said, clearly pleased with himself.
Let it never be said, he thought to himself as he took the helm of the Black Pearl, that he wasn't completely a man of his word, but the Powers That Be help the next man who tried negotiating an accord with Hector Barbossa.
A/N: It amused me to write this in such a way, that while Barbossa and company managed to recover all but the final coin here, if Elizabeth had only ventured closer at the beginning, he might have spoken with her or gotten a better look at her. Perhaps their conversation would have turned to pirate medallions, or perhaps he would have later recognized her when she was dragged before him aboard the Black Pearl and lied about her name. Either way, it might have saved an awful lot of trouble that she caused him! :)