Ship of the night

It was fitting perhaps that he first heard the tales from Jonathon (Jon usually, but never Jack) their second son and the one that didn't seem to belong to them at all. If the truth were told he had made them both uneasy from well before his fifth birthday, for even then it had seemed that Jon belonged to the horizon, to the sea and the sky and to a world already lost.

When, on one of his rare trips home, he asked about the Black Pearl Will had been taken aback, for Jon had long passed the point of needing stories of the sea. But this time it seemed that he was the one with a story to tell, one that had stirred his memories of nursery days and prompted the question. A story he had heard in the ports around the east, of sailors stranded by a shipwreck and plucked from some God forsaken atoll by a ship of the night, a fast shadow of a ship with black timbers and black sails.

"You and mama used to tell me stories about a ship with black sails," he had said, "a ship that you sailed aboard before your marriage. Do you remember it?"
Will had looked towards the fire, the years rolling back as he remembered that ship and with her the people and places of another life. He rarely thought of those days now, and if Elizabeth did then she never told him so. Those frantic weeks after their return from the locker had seen them at world's end in more ways than one and they had both known that there was no going back there; not when they had waited a decade for their future. But, though they had found their way through destiny's maelstrom and resumed the even tenor of normal living, their days of pirating had lived on in the stories that first Elizabeth, and then he, had told their children. Young Jon had heard the tales many times.
"The Black Pearl," he had replied quietly.
"That was it." Jon smiled and quirked an eyebrow at him, "The Black Pearl. Was it a real ship or just a children's story?"

Will drew a deep breath, memories crowding in,
"Oh she was real enough, there was nothing of a child's story about the Pearl."
"She was pirate?" the question was hesitant as if his son was aware of the indelicacy of what he was implying.
Will had turned to look at him, so like his mother and yet so unlike, and his smile became rueful,
"Sometimes. But ships aren't pirates, it's their crews who are that."
Jon had nodded, he loved his ship as much as any person, though he probably wouldn't admit a difference, and would not take kindly to some one casting such a slur upon her. But there was also a frown between his eyes, as if he knew somehow that he had to step with care,
"Could it be the same ship? After all this time? Do you know what happened to her?"

Will had leant back in his chair, his mind wandering down long neglected tracks, away from the safety of his home and and the prosperous respectability his present, back to those far off battle days of his youth, hearing the clash of steel and the roar of canon again as if it had been just yesterday. But it had been more than thirty-five years since he last left the Black Pearl to board the Dutchman, a journey that had cost him ten years of separation from Elizabeth and his first-born child. Only once in those ten years as the Dutchman's captain had he seen anyone from the black ship, and that Barbossa's pet lost overboard in a skirmish somewhere off the coast of India. What she was doing there he hadn't discovered, for though the monkey had known him and clung to his shoulder on the journey to the next world it could tell him nothing. The Pearl had sailed away from the battle, apparently undamaged, and so he hadn't known where she was bound or who stood at her helm.

In the years since the sky had flashed green and he had been returned to the living he had seen or heard nothing of her, nor the men he had sailed with. 'God forgive me' he thought, 'I fought with them, certainly owe my life to one of them, and yet I haven't remembered them in nearly thirty years' He wondered if Elizabeth had. Catching Jon's enquiring look he sighed,
"The Pearl was a good ship, and fast," he said, "but in the nature of things it is unlikely that she's still sailing. She's almost certainly gone to the depths." He had reached for the decanter, "probably taking her captain with her."
'Again. Whichever one it was who prevailed,' he added silently.

Jon had nodded,
"But it's strange all the same. How many black ships are there? Black canvas is not that easily come by and why would anyone take so much trouble?"
Will just shook his head, that there should be another black sailed ship seemed unlikely. The Pearl had been the creation of man as uncommon as he was unreliable and though Barbossa had captained her for ten years no one else had ever doubted that it was Jack she really belonged to, that it was in Jack's sometimes' wayward mind that she had found her birth. It was his reckless trade with Davy Jones that raised her when she had been lost. Who other than Jack would resurrect her again?

And Jack must be long gone.

That thought brought an unexpected pang of grief, but whether it was for the man or the youth he represented Will couldn't say.
"I don't know," he sipped his drink, "but it's unlikely that it is the Pearl."
Will frowned as he thought of Elizabeth, long since reconciled to a more sedate life yet still haunted by the manner of her father's death and the nightmare of the lives, at least one life, that she had taken, or cost, in her fury and desperation. He had hoped they had left that time behind them forever, but the shadows in her face these past months had stirred a fear in him that she was remembering them again, and more than was healthy for her. He was afraid that the pains and grief and guilt of that time had returned from the past to haunt her present. He shot his son a careful look,
"But best not to mention it to your mother, it was a long time ago and those memories are better not recalled. She has enough to concern her in your sister's wedding."

He had managed an easy enough tone but Jon's eye had widened at the warning, realising that he was skimming reef strewn waters that his childhood self had never realised were waiting. But he had seen the brittle look in his mother's face this visit and, though he looked uncertain, he had nodded his agreement.

Nothing more was said about the ship of the night.

***

Yet Will could not forget what Jon had told him and nor could he forget the Pearl. Her ghost had stirred and she wouldn't let him be. At night she sailed into his dreams, and always with Jack at the helm, his hat spotted with spray and his hair whipped by the wind. Jack Sparrow, no older than the day he had last seen him. That last fateful day when the pirate had grasped his hand and guided it towards the heart of Davy Jones, clasped his dying fingers around a broken sword and given him and Elizabeth a second chance. When he had given an unspoken promise that he would do nothing to come between them.

Nor had he, though Jack had shared it all and so might have been the one man to sway Elizabeth from her pledge to her husband during those long and lonely years; the man who might have condemned him to eternity aboard the Dutchman just as Jones had been condemned. But Jack had honoured that unmentioned promise and left them to their shared destiny. From the day he had left her waiting for her husband on a far off beach Elizabeth had neither seen nor heard from Jack, of that much Will was certain. Maybe it would have been better if she had.

Nor had Jack's father. Teague had died while Will had still served the Dutchman, and he had passed on knowing only that Jack had sailed away on the Pearl.

But they had all known that Jack Sparrow was not a man born to grow old. Whether it was at sea or in the back alleys of some far flung port Jack would meet death before age withered him. Teague had always known it and Will had come to know it too in the long years spent collecting souls, come to know that some men are not destined to outlive the vigour of youth. No, however much Jack feared the locker he was not born to follow his father into venerable and respected old age as his world emptied. Jack was gone, just as Teague was and Barbossa must be. There was no one left to be sailing the Pearl.

He had looked for other stories of the black ship anyway. In the taverns and chandlers and coffee shops he had sought them, from sailors returning from the furthest reaches of the shrinking globe, from merchants and mapmakers and officers of the Royal Navy. Never really sure if he was hoping to find other tales of Jon's ship of the night, or to find that there were none.

Still she and her captains would not leave him alone. At night he would sit by the fire, Elizabeth silent at his side, and remember. Barbossa as first met, a monkey on his shoulder and an apple in his hand. Elizabeth on a plank over a deep blue ocean, an island disappearing into the distance, the pictures in his mind of her alone on a beach with a pirate with dark shadowed eyes and a charming, yet secret, smile. A pirate she had killed then searched for on the other side of death. A man whose memory was too uncomfortable for both of them, despite all the years that had passed, to be tolerated in large quantity.

Why it was that Jack should return to haunt him now he couldn't know, only that he did. Yet there might have a purpose to it, Will had seen enough of destiny to know that nothing could be taken for granted in the fates of those who had sailed to Calypso's bidding.

So the other stories came as little surprise, and he found them easily enough once he started to seek them. Stories from other lands told in other languages, but always the same description, always the ship of the night, the black ship with black sails. He listened and doubted and wondered but was never truly convinced.

Until he met the boy.