Beloved of the Lady

When Captain Jack Sparrow said that the breath of the Kraken was not so bad he had lied, even though it was only to himself. But what else was a legend to do in such a situation but lie? Particularly to himself.

A legend couldn't admit that the stench filled him with terror because a legend didn't feel terror, just as it didn't feel hopelessness and defeat and despair. A legend didn't doubt itself, and when faced with an obvious, yet disastrous, destiny a legend stared it in the eyes, or in this case the mouth, and grinned.

As the Kracken wrapped its huge tentacles around the Pearl in that last triumphant, and yet strangely loving, embrace the legend was all that was left to the man Jack.

Yet whatever else he might have been the man Jack was never a coward, nor a fool, and he knew that this was where the legend always had been leading, and where it ended. Knew too that there was no way out now but to pay the terrible debt that he had struggled and plotted so hard to avoid.

Pay it in full.

But if he had to pay then it would not be with craven capitulation; the servility sometimes necessary for survival would gain him nothing here. No, it would be Captain Jack Sparrow who went down with the Pearl, even though it would be the man Jack whose soul was forfeit.

Dying was easier for a legend than for a man.

So, as he clapped the slimed and blackened hat to his head, the man Jack let the legend take hold of his mind. As he pulled the sword from its scabbard he let man and legend merge more completely than ever before, and as he strode forward to select his point of attack the two, man and myth, became truly one.

Only when the deed was completed, and the darkness of the Kracken's maw closed around him, did the legend flare bright as day, and then pass away leaving the man Jack lost in darkness.

Now the stench of the Kracken took its' full toll, shriveling flesh already set burning by the fires of its' belly. Each stroke of the sword brought forth new waves of that slippery fire to flay the sinews of hand and arm, a fire even worse than the one that Beckett had used to burn the brand of a pirate on his wrist, and he had thought that no fire could be hotter than that one.

Pain streaked down his nerve endings as the lightless flame licked up his arm and across his shoulders, he felt the silk of his coat and then the linen of his shirt part as the heat took it, exposing more flesh to it's lash. But no human wielded lash had ever bitten as this one did, nor curled around his ribs in such a close embrace. The sword fell from fingers no longer strong enough to hold them and the man Jack fell to his knees, head bent, hair falling forward to shield his eyes from the blackness.

From within the pain there came acceptance and with it a kind of peace; the worst was nearly over, dying was almost done, and all that awaited him was that final judgment. But he had faced that in the long boat and now he didn't fear it. The man Jack rallied the last of his strength; it was so nearly spent but a man who was a legend should not die with his head hung. So he looked up, eyes burning with the stench and more, to stare down the darkness as it came to claim him.

It was then that he saw her, moving through the boiling slime and fire of the monster's belly as easily as if taking a morning stroll. For a moment he thought her a mirage, a shade sent by the Kracken, or it's master Jones, to taunt him in his final seconds on life's side of death. But as she came closer he knew her, and as she smiled at him the darkness, fear and sorrow were lost to the memory of past times.

He had first met her at Tortuga, in an alley as nearly dark and rank as his current resting place.

It was the night before he set sail, bound for the events that would wash him up at Tia Delma's door for the first time, and he was running towards the dock with an angry pimp on his heels and the pimp's fat purse in his pocket. It had been Scarlett's mother that he had spent his time with if he recalled aright, an aging whore who had seen better days to be sure but who had a sentimental kindness for sailors newly embarked upon a pirate's life and with few coins in their pocket. A kindness not shared by her pimp, certainly not when he discovered that his purse strings had been cut.

So when she told him to run he had run, out of a window, across a roof and down the alley, with the pimp and his associates getting closer at every stride. He had rounded a corner at full tilt, expecting an ambush at any moment, and death at the point of a knife not long after, and he had careered straight into the Lady.

She was tall and beautiful he was sure, yet he could never have described her face, nor the colour of her hair or the fashion of her gown. Only her fan could he picture clearly even now, tumbling from her hand to lie on the floor at his feet, the ivory of it glowing in the gloom, carved more delicately than the lace caps of the waves and with the painted medallions adorning it aglow from within. Her skirts had the sheen of silk, he remembered that, and that her hat was large, shielding her eyes even though the sun had long sunk behind the horizon. But it was the fan and her smile, only half glimpsed from behind that hat's shadow, which had transfixed him.

Jack recalled that smile so well, how it had seemed to caress him, bringing him to a halt even as reason screamed at him to push past her and run. Reason had lost the argument and he stopped, and stooped, and picked up that glorious fan. He recalled again how he had spread it to brush a haze of dust from the snowy lace with fingers that were barely cleaner than the alley floor, hungry eyes taking in the beauty of it. He remembered too the stirrings of surprise at the images there, the dark ship on a turquoise sea, the young gods on their throne of gold, the image of death with a cutlass in his hand, the sun blazing liquid yellow on an impossibly white beach. Such strange images for such a lovely lady's fan.

He had stared at them for a moment longer then, suddenly overcome with a feeling of unease, he had snapped the fan shut, no longer wishing to hold it. Returning it to the silent owner with slight bow he had smiled his most charming smile.

"My Lady," he had said as lightly as he could, "I trust I have done neither your lovely self or your beautiful fan any damage. But if you will excuse me I have pressing business at sea."

She had taken the fan without a word, but her fingers had brushed his as she did so and they were cold as marble. He had straightened and looked into her shadowed face and he thought her smiled widened; then, after a moment, she inclined her head graciously and moved away and past him.

Jack was tempted to put out a hand to stop her, to grasp her arm and see if that smooth and rounded flesh was as chilly as her fingers, but the thud of approaching boots put the fancy to flight and he stared in something akin to panic into the gloom. The lady had seemed unconcerned by the sounds of ruffians approaching, though in truth she must know that if they found her here, and unprotected except for an unarmed and somewhat novice pirate, they might well decide that she was of more interest, and profit, than Jack. For some reason he could not name, even if he would own it, that idea troubled him and he moved to pass her again, to place himself between her and the approaching pursuers, his eyes searching desperately for any nook or cranny that might hide them.

There was nothing.

Panic stirred again, and after it an unfamiliar sense of hopeless bravado; if he must die in such a place then he would do so on his own terms. So he straightened his hat and positioned himself facing the direction of their approach, weight balanced on the balls of his feet, hands resting lightly on his pistol and swordless belt. Then he waited.

For a moment the silent lady seemed to consider him, still as unconcerned as if she stood at the tea table in the governor's residence on Port Royale. Then she moved closer to him, her steps soundless even in the confines of the alley; she tilted her head and studied him closely, but she said nothing.

Jack looked back at her, struck by a sudden sense of destiny; a feeling that this inauspicious meeting was perhaps the most important encounter of his life. He smiled, head high, ignoring the sounds of heavy feet that now seemed to echo between the damp and weed spouting walls. Beneath the shadow of the hat brim he thought he saw a flash of light; and of something else, a shimmer of silver and gold and all the colours of every gemstone. He looked down as he felt something stroke his forearm, saw the lace of the open fan linger so white and delicate against his sun bronzed arm, watched it stop for a moment on the sparrow etched there, then sweep down to lie against the angry welt that was burnt just above his wrist. Jack watched as it hovered for a moment, then he looked up again as he felt something brush his hair. Motionless he waited, eyes locked on the shadowed face, as the lady's other hand skimmed over the tangled mass, and waited again while an elegant finger traced the line of his jaw. His skin seemed to burn where she touched him,

"My Lady, this is not the time nor place but…." he began but got no further.

The fan came up to press gently against his lips and he fell silent, caught again in the strange solemnity of the moment.

Then the moment was gone and he realised that running footsteps were almost upon them and he turned in sudden anger towards the sound. A shadow appeared in the gloom in front of him and the moon glinted suddenly on the tarnished buttons of a man's coat. There was no longer any time to hide.

Above him the wall splintered in a burst of sound, and he threw himself to the ground, looking around for the silent lady, but she was nowhere to be seen. He had no time to wonder at it. Another blast of sound and dust and the wall was falling. Jack scrambled to his feet, turned and sprinted into the darkness towards the harbour, not even hearing the cries of the men trapped behind him. The air was filled with whistles and bangs and he ducked his head and kept on moving.

Down in the harbour the British Navy had begun one of its infrequent raids against the insult that was Tortuga.

***

He had thought of the lady many times since then, and seen her on other occasions, but had never resolved the puzzle that she was; and some part of him warned that it would be unwise even to try. After her appearance on that god forsaken spit of land where Barbossa had left him to die he had thought he might know who she was, when he had seen her in crowd around the gallows, fan flashing in the sun he had known it; but to put a name to her might lose him her love and he had no desire for that. The Lady, he had always thought of her as that in all the years since that alley, knowing that to name her might drive her away.

Only when Elizabeth had chained him to the mast had he wondered if he had named her in some deep part of his mind, and if that in doing so he had alienated her.

Yet she was here.

The darkness of the Kraken seemed to deepen as she walked towards him, the fire in his body glowed hotter as it did so and he would have cried out with the pain of it but he was afeared of driving her away. The man Jack was no more given to casual trust than Captain Sparrow, not even of the Lady, but that was all that was left to him now.

Then she was before him, head tilted to look down at his sweat stained face, peeping over the fan that was suddenly spread in a graceful sweep before her. Jack stared at it, the images painted on the silk were insubstantial now, uncertain, pale watercolours rather than the vibrant oils of before; but they were there. Jack smiled as the fan flashed and then arced through the darkness to land in the horror washing around his knees.

With the last of his strength he reached out, his body shrieking in pain at the movement, fingers scrabbling to grasp the pale glow of ivory. With infinite care he closed burning fingers around it, with teeth gritting effort he raised it before him, two handed, extending it in mixed supplication and devotion to the silent shade before him,

"My Lady, I believe this to be yours," he whispered.

For a moment she regarded him and the fan without moving, then the hat tipped down as she nodded. A hand as pale as early morning light reached forward and fingers slender as a coral frond closed around his own. She took the fan and smiled, the glow of that smile, all gold and gems and sunshine on water suddenly lighting his darkness.

Jack sighed knowing that his fate was beyond him now, that all he could do was endure until it was decided. Eyes slid closed as the Lady took the fan and left him to the darkness. But behind her she had left a reassurance of her love, and hope.