Chapter 44 Prisoners of the past
The heat of the sun was as powerful as good rum, and as the shade shrunk so Gibbs drowsiness grew. Twice he had risen and descended into the deep shade of the hole, listening in anxious and sweaty immobility for any indication they were still about their business down there, but there was no sign or sound of his missing captains and so he had returned to his seat to wait.
The glare of the sun on the water had seemed brighter than he had ever seen it before and as the flashes of light began to blur his vision he had wondered if it signified something that he didn't want to know. He'd cursed himself for a fool and set about plaiting several of the scrawny palm leaves into a hat of sorts, but even with its meagre shade it had become harder to see past the waiting ship to the horizon.
He'd tried to occupy his mind wondering what he would do with eternal youth, assuming they found it. Would he sup of it too if they offered it? Once he had had a family, a mother and father and three sisters, he'd lost them all, just as he had lost his wife and child, before he reached twenty one, but he had never doubted that he would see them all again one day. Pirate he might be but he trusted in the good lord's understanding of the trials and temptations a man faced to see him home to them. He was not a religious man but he would trust himself to god, though he'd not give a moments thought to that same god's stuffed faced, vinegar voiced, messengers on earth. No, he'd no doubts that the church had more to do with man's law than God's and he knew only too well what man's law was, a way for the rich to get richer while preventing a poor man from feeding his family. Cutler Beckett had been proof, if it were needed, of the real truth of man's law. The law was not his, for when had a poor man such as himself had any say in the nature of the law?
Avoiding an encounter with that law for as long as possible seemed a most pleasant idea but it didn't change his belief in his ultimate redemption.
Now, faced with a choice that meant he might never rejoin his lost family, he wondered what it was that he really wanted. The sea had always been his life, but was that enough for eternity? For Jack maybe, but for himself? Well he wasn't so sure of that. Wasn't even sure if it would be enough for Jack come to that, but Jack thought it would be and that was enough to send him down into that world below in search of the way. If he came back with it after all, where would Jack go and what would he do?
Would he go with him?
The lady captain now, she might, for where else did she have to go? Whatever strange world it was that she came from it would seem that she couldn't yet go back there, for if she could then why had she not done so? That ghost of hers, gave him the shivers she did, always watching, always there, but not even she could take captain Elanor home. Maybe Jack could sell her the idea of living forever, or at least for a fair slice of it, in search of a way back to where she came from. Gibbs found that he hoped so, for he didn't like the idea of Jack adrift and alone. Whatever else Jack Sparrow might be he was, to Gibbs mind, a good man and a friend, and being so he deserved a better fate than eternity alone.
Not that he'd ever known Jack beg for company, nor seek friendship. Captain Sparrow he was and so he acted, as much separated from his crew and others by that name as any navy commodore. More so when you thought of it, for in the navy there were a raft of officers to share the separation with, but it was different for a pirate captain for he was a man always havin' to watch his back. Jack had learned that lesson the way he learned so many others, the hard way. Only time he'd ever seen Jack a hankerin' for people was after they had returned from the locker, aye and it had shaken him to the core to see it, not that he'd let the other know that. But later he'd wondered if Jack hadn't been up to something even then, tryin' to get away from meetin' Beckett perhaps, though it had not worked if that was what he had been about. Yet for a moment there it had seemed that he was truly distressed that none would say they had come to save him for himself. Few of them there but he had known how portentous his very askin' was. But he had known and understood in that moment how shattered the man was by the locker.
Gibbs turned his eyes towards the dark black shadow of the hole and wondered if Jack was whole even now. He seemed recovered but the locker still hung over him, why else would he have gone down there?
With a sigh he reached for the water bottle, and wished again that it was rum. Maybe he should have gone with them, though they had both said no. Captain Cavendish didn't know Jack, so could he trust her to stand at his shoulder as he himself would? He rose again and returned to the gateway they had toiled over, cursing himself for letting then persuade him to stay behind.
But he could do nothing now, if he followed them there was no saying what he might find. better to wait here as he had promised. With that he returned to his post and stared out towards the white ship, wondered for a moment what the ghost was doing, then closed his eyes.
In the shadows of the hole there was a momentary flash of gold and silver as the Lady watched him thougtfully. She could feel his uncertainty, his fears of this place, and knew that he could not be allowed to run. Whether he joined the game or not he was needed for the moment.
She stepped out onto the white sands, moved closer to him and remembered.
"Now that is what I call a fountain."
"Waterfall." Elanor corrected without thinking.
Jack looked across at her with pursed mouth and narrowed eyes,
"It's as much a fountain as waterfall I say." There was an annoyed dignity in his tone, "No reason why it shouldn't be considered a fountain."
Elanor shrugged and gave him a rueful smile,
"Doesn't matter much, now does it? Your compass says that is the fountain so that's what it is. Either way we found it, and now we need to find a way out of here."
He stared at her for a moment or two longer then straightened his shoulders and nodded,
"True enough. Back the way we came then?"
"Provided we can find a way down, it's too much to hope that we will find one of these slabs that goes the whole way."
"Aye that's true. But one way or another we must get down if we are to get out."
"No way out up there, least not as I saw it, you see something that says different?"
She shook her head.
"So down it is."
"Then we need to find a slab that's going down."
Jack's smile returned, and she realised, not for the first time, how much happier he was when there was something to be done.
"We'll not do it standing here."
Then he waved her to one side of the room before setting off to search the other.
Groves watched the canvas strain against the wind and wondered if this time they would catch the Black Pearl. Somehow he did not think so. The Intrepid was fast but not as fast as the Interceptor had been and the Pearl had caught her when she had tried to run, so Miss Swann had told them, and if he were honest with himself he felt fatalistic about the chase. It was almost as if something was standing between them and the black sailed ship, and that something was not Jack Sparrow. Had he been aboard her persistent escapes might have been understandable, for Sparrow had walked off with the Intrepid from under Norrington's nose with no more help than a apprentice blacksmith, and in a manner as unpirate like as it had been astute. James Norrington had never forgotten how the pirate had read him so easily and so accurately, nor had he forgiven it. Perhaps that had played some part in his actions when he lost the Dauntless to the hurricane, for simply losing the ship could not have driven him to the level of despair needed to resign his commission.
For himself Groves freely admitted he had gained a level of admiration for Sparrow that day, the feeling that he would give much to have so clever a captain to serve with was something he had kept to himself, though he suspected that Hathaway knew it. But then Hathaway was a strange sort of captain when all was said and done and seemed to have in understanding of Sparrow that suggested he was no mental sluggard himself and that he might have some sympathy with Groves point of view.
Hathaway made Groves uneasy, he hd to admit it, and while he trusted him he was not sure he half understood the game that Hathaway was playing. Was not sure either that the Governor Thynne did either, though he thought that Thynne was a clever,man too. Admiral Norrington he was less sure of, for he could not forget that he was the Commodore's uncle and so would have some family feeling in the matter. But it seemed that he too treated Hathaway in a manner that no ordinary naval captain would have received or expected; that Hathaway accepted that without hesitation said all that needed to be said.
As he watched the waters he sighed silently, it would have been pleasant to have forgotten recent months for a while, to pretend he was back under the command of Captain Norrington chasing just another pirate ship across Caribbean waters. To have nothing more to concern him than the chase, the wind, and the chance of delivering another murdering bastard to the rope. But he couldn't and even that memory was tainted now; he'd seen too many hangings, too many uncertainties made brutal fact. He'd watched as the law had been put aside for convenience and he could never feel the same way about a hanging any more, could not even feel the same certainty in the law as he had once known. Beckett had spoken of the law but his actions were driven by hate and greed and many had died as a result. Some no doubt guilty of all he claimed, but some perhaps not. No, given the numbers involved almost certainly some who were not. He found that he could not forget that and knew that from now on he would always wonder if the law was right or whether this death was just to ease the passage of the rich and powerful. The men who had sailed out with Sparrow to find the heart, and those who had faced the armada at the end, had fought and died for their captain, just as he would for his, knowing that it might claim their lives, just as he knew. How then were they different if the law was nothing more than straw to be bent or set aside at a rich man's whim?
Only when he finally saw Beckett for what he was had he understood and that had understanding had taken away his faith in much that he had been so proud to defend, and it could not be taken back.
What was it that had made Beckett hate Sparrow so? For he had hated him Groves was sure of that, for all his protestations of the law, and good business of course. God knew he had not realised until those last words of Beckett how much the man had hated the pirate. Until that moment he had managed to go on believing, but that, and the look that went with it had stripped the truth of the matter bare. Though if had cared to look there had been warning enough before, the look in Beckett's eyes when Sparrow escaped again and when he had asked him if Sparrow planned things out in advance had betrayed something far stronger than inconvenience, looking back he could admit now that they had betrayed that hatred, and some other feeling too that he could not put a name to even now. It had been Sparrow that Beckett had wanted to end, and he had not been willing to wait for the end of piracy to achieve it. What was it that turned a man so cold to such hatred? Money and position seemed the most likely given what Beckett had been, but how had a penniless pirate offended a rick man like Beckett badly enough to feed such hatred?
Not that it mattered now, though Hathaway had been most interested in Beckett's dealings with Sparrow. But then Hathaway was interested in some very strange things, not least the tragic Miss Swann. Groves shuddered, thinking about Miss Swann was worst of all; at least her father had died quickly, he could only pray that her death had not been too slow in coming.
"Will we catch her do you think?"
Hathaway had come up behind him silently.
"No sir, I don't think that we will."
The captain nodded, staring at the black shape on the horizon with calculating eyes.
"I agree." There was a faint pause, "At least, not unless we are intended to."
Groves turned his head quickly to stare at his companion but Captain Hathaway was already striding away.
They had not found a slab that would move but Jack had found a doorway that they would both have sworn had not been here before.
It was off to the side of the room just behind the last row of pillars but was in no way hidden and neither of them could explain how they had not seen it when they were there before.
"The only possible explanation is that it was not here before." Jack muttered as they stood and stared at the black hole beyond the lintel.
"Or that it was closed." Elanor looked around her but nothing else in this hall seemed changed in any way.
"So why is it open now? I'd don't recall pressing anything."
"Maybe it was something you said. Open sesame perhaps?"
Jack frowned at her in disbelieving, and slightly outraged, confusion,
"Have I told you that you say the oddest things?" he demanded after a moment, "It makes no sense. Why would I go around sayin' such a thing to meself pray? Or even to a wall?"
"Ah you don't know the story then. I'm still not sure if your world is a direct relation of mine or not and I can't recall when those stories first appeared. Maybe they don't exist here."
"Stories are not something a pirate has much time for luv," he protested.
"Unless they are your own you mean?"
His eyes widened for a moment then his mouth stretched in a wide grin/ Elanor returned the smile wityh a smaller and drier one.
"You'd like this one, its all about thieves and caves full of treasure."
"Ah, I see the connection then, but what is point of this word?"
"It opens the treasure cave."
"Really? Then I will remember it for future use, should I ever find a treasure cave that won't let me in. But since I didn't know it previously you can be sure that no such magical word opened this door."
"No I rather expect the.. ghost did. It probably stays closed except under certain circumstances."
"Those circumstances now being fulfilled?" he looked around suspiciously, hand dropping to his pistol as if expecting to see hordes of armed guards appearing from the walls.
"Seems so. Probably to do with what's happening up there."
She drew a deep breath,
"So are we going in?"
Jack peered into the shadows again his mouth turned down in uncertainty, then he shrugged and pulled the pistol from his sash,
"Doesn't seem to be much choice if we want a way out. Looks like it's this or stay here and starve, or die of whatever the lake water did to us."
Elanor looked at him closely, the red wheals seemed to be fading, though slowly, and though his eyes were still puffy and inflamed his skin had lost the tight and shiny look. More importantly he was looking if not alert at least capable of staying on his feet.
"We don't know what's waiting in there Jack, are you feeling up to facing whatever it is?"
He straightened up and turned to her,
"That's of no matter Elanor," he sound wearily impatient, "either we go now and risk what's there, or stay and wait and risk the door closing. No saying we'll feel any better in an hour, or two come to that, so what's the point? I say that we go now and face what's there when we have to."
The impatient look became suddenly thoughtful and he started at her closely.
"If you can manage it that is. If you can't then say so, I'll not push you if you can't."
She didn't say anything for a moment and he waited for the complaint, the reminder that he had brought her to this, but once again she ran counter to expectation.
"No, I'll go on," she said calmly looking into the darkness, "I'm not feeling as bad as I did and you are right of course, this door might not stay open for long and once it's closed the opportunity is gone, maybe for ever." She looked at his sideways, "you go first or shall I?"
For a moment he wondered if she was baiting him but meeting her eye he decided that she meant it literally. 'Well', he thought, 'no ways I'm letting her go in there first, might not be safe.'
On the thought he stepped into the shadows, his feet moving even as he wondered where the hell that impulse had come from!
The sun had shifted and the surf seemed even lazier and less inclined to come ashore than before. Not a sea bird flew or sand crab scuttled this island seemingly forgotten by the whole world. All around him the similarities between this place and the locker seemed even clearer than before, even down to the discarded lobster pot that had had appeared on the shore line in the time since he had last looked.
Gibbs took another swallow of water and eased his back against the tree; sweat was soaking his shirt and trickling down his neck. The air felt like the inside of an oven and not as much as whisper of wind stirred the limp leaves above him. This place was surely cursed, even the surf seemed unwilling to make landfall here, the hiss of the waves was muted and the surf dissipated long before it met the sand. Everything reminded him of the locker shore, and thinking of the locker brought more thoughts of the days afterwards. Seemed that hard as he tried he was unable to think of anything else.
He shifted his weight and wiped the sweat from his face concentrating on the past to avoid the present. What was it that Jack had seen in the locker that had changed him so much? Why had he felt that sudden need to be cared about? Jack had never asked for much in the time he had known him, it often seemed as if something had burned all his need for people away. He had often thought that it was something to do with Beckett and the brand but he had not known the whole of it until the night that Jack had told him about the Kraken.
They had all known something bad was up long before that of course, no man would go into such a hell as that prison without having Satan at his back, alone too and with no certainty of come out. Jack been odder than usual for weeks, nightmares whenever he slept and muttering to himself when he was awake. More than once he had come upon him starin' at the sea with a desperate look on his face and whispering 'but how? How?" to himself. Then had come the night when all hell broke loose with Jack turning them from their bunks hardly coherent in his orders. They had all known things were desperate then, couldn't hide it o'course, when your captain tells you to run as if from the devil and then proceeds to give the order to beach the ship you can't pretend the world isn't about to fall about you.
But the men had stuck with him, could have thrown him overboard of course or left him on that island alone as Barbossa once has, and it had been clear when he came back with nothing more than the drawing of that key, that he half expected that they would. But Jack had a knack of binding men to him, even when he didn't seem to seek to, and they had all stayed true. For some that had meant the pot and Gibbs didn't care to think what it would have been like to watch them used in such a manner and be unable to help. Knowing, too, that your own fate would be no different in the end.
From then on Jack had been driven and it seemed that Will's appearance had provide the 'how' that he had been looking for.
Sometimes Gibbs admitted to himself that he wondered if he should have warned Will what they were up again'. Jack had played fair as he saw it, for he had not told them not to tell, but the lad never asked. But then he had kept his secrets too for he had not told them about Beckett, and things might have been different if he had, for Jack might have seen matters differently had he known. It were true that none of them had treated the others entirely fairly in the business but Jack had paid a higher price than most, to die in such a manner.
But it had been the locker and not dying that had done for Jack, he was sure of it.
A surge of more active surf washed the sand and for a moment he seemed to hear a hiss of anger on the wind, at least that was what he told himself that it was, pretending to forget that the absence of wind. He pushed the thought away, along with the feeling that he was being watched, and went back to his musing.
They had gone lookin' for him o'course, at least he and the other crew had, but none of them would admit it, not at all pirate thing to do were that, and in his right mind Jack would never have asked nor even wanted to know. Not Jack. Jack Sparrow in his right mind could be a chilly man for all that he had a good heart and a fondness for the pleasures of life. Distant you might say. Never seemed to need man nor beast, in fact he often wondered just how much Jack really needed women, for he'd seen him take a fair bit of abuse from them, and be left by them, without any sign of the anger or jealousy that other men felt. Many a man in his position would, for example, have taken every opportunity offered to enjoy Miss Elizabeth's favours and then wrung her teasin' neck!
No, in normal circumstances Jack was as far from impulsive and confiding as it were possible for a man to be, he knew that, always had. Knowin' what he knew about him now it were not surprising, no ways he could be anything else when it came down to it, or so Pol had said. The world had set out to make Jack Sparrow a pirate and had made him what he was on the way, teaching him the lessons of betrayal in a harsh and unforgettable manner. Might do a thing because he thought it right but never because others did, nor because they expected it. Jack Sparrow decided what it were proper for Jack Sparrow to do and no one else. Though he would do much, maybe all, for those he cared for he had not a particle of proper feeling in other respects, not as others would see it any way. Nor was he ever likely to for Gibbs had heard him on the subject of other's proper feelings.
Miss Elizabeth now she had never understood the degree of calculation Jack was capable of, no nor Will either. Captain Elanor just might, for he would not be surprised if she were not cut from the same cloth herself.
Not for the first time he wondered what she would have done had she been there.
They had steeled themselves for the dark and found that it wasn't necessary for as Jack stepped across the threshold light appeared in the passageway. Not the silver blue of the chambers behind them but the white of normal daylight. After an exchange of startled looks they both set off to explore this new avenue.
The walls were the same as those in the chambers but they lacked the patterns of buried crystals, being uniformly smooth from floor to ceiling.
"Should be cobwebs." Jack muttered as he edged forward, he indicated the walls and floor with his pistol, "abandoned temple or whatever it's only right that a hidden passage should have cobwebs."
Elanor smiled though she understood the seriousness of what he was saying well enough.
"Yes, and dust, inches of it. " She added, "This place looks like it was cleaned only hours ago."
"From which we deduce .. What?" he replied softly, as if afraid of being overheard.
"That it's been sealed I expect, completely, and that it was cleaned before it was sealed."
He nodded silently edging forward as he did so, only to stop suddenly and spin on the balls of his feet, facing her with a frown,
"Why? Your world might be different but this one isn't so finicky about housekeeping, certainly not in abandoned temples." He pointed a finger at her, "Take that from one who knows." His hand fell and his gaze drifted away from hers, taking in the silent passage with its clean, smooth walls, "and not only why but ...." his eyes came back to her face, brows raised, "Who?"
Elanor nodded slightly as if aknowldgeing the rightness of the question,
"More ghosts I suspect, as for why..... well it depends where this is going I expect."
Jack seemed to think about that for a moment then he smiled,
"And there's only one way to find that out."
He spun around and set off again.
There were no strange creatures, no knives appearing from the walls, no flight of bats or trails of blood; all in all the passage was dull. Yet that did nothing to soothe their nerves, the very blandness of it convincing both of them that sooner or later they would get all three.
It was a short walk, no more than five minutes from the point at which they had stepped into it to the small featureless room that ended it. Jack stared around in baffled silence while Elanor examined the walls.
"So what now?" she said as she finished her inspections and turned to face Jack.
The look on his face stopped her from further speculation for he was staring with disbelief at the wall behind her, she frowned a question at him and he raised a shaking hand,
"It was rock and then it wasn't, how did it do that!" he sounded more intrigued than upset.
She turned slowly, almost afraid of what she would see.
Jack was right where a moment before there had been a solid wall now there was another passageway, one that sloped gently downwards into shadow. Behind Jack the entrance they had come through was now a solid wall.
Seeing the look on her face Jack turned around slowly drawing a deep breath as he realised the change,
"Well that decides it. Sooner we're out of here the better, a place where doors become walls and walls grow doors is not somewhere to linger in my opinion."
"Not when you don't know how or why," she agreed.
Without further discussion they moved on to the next passageway.
The sun seemed hotter and the sands glowed like glass about to melt, and Mr Gibbs squinted across the glare of sand and surf to the white ship sitting serenely in the bay waiting fir her captain and minded by her ghost. The thought of that ghost turned his mind back to the past again and for a moment he was back walking the Pearl on her return from the seas of the dead and its own ghosts..
The voyage back had truly been a parade of the damned, for none of them had thought to escape the place, and when they had they carried the nightmare of returning there. None of them had doubted Davy Jones rage should he discover what had been done. There had been sorrow and strangeness enough piled on top of that fear too, so much that it seemed that the ship would sink below the weight of it. Miss Elizabeth had sat in sorrowful silence for much of the time, while Will had wandered around like a lost soul seeming unable to settle, constantly making moves towards the lass then falling back again as if tongue tied. All the time Barbossa played the captain yet there had been a haunted look on his face, no more so than when he looked at Tia Dalma, then there had been real fear in his eyes if you caught the look.
Jack had been strangest of all o'course, yet even so it had been a shock to see Jack so apparently needy.
Not the only shock that day either, young Will's actions had shaken him near as much as Jack's. Who would have thought the lad would act so? I He had always though of the boy as fair and straight yet it made him wonder if they knew Will at all. Afterwards, when they knew what he had planned, when he had tried to think of another time when Will had put others before himself or his lass, he found that he struggled to do so. Will's demeanour was noble it was true but his deeds didn't match, not when it were looked at straight. Other than that one dramatic gesture which had saved Jack from the noose Will's actions were no more self-sacrificing than any other man's, so perhaps the betrayal should not have been surprising.
William had fought well though, and died honourably fighting for what mattered to him, couldn't say no fairer than that about any man.
Though why Jack had given up the thing he wanted so badly for the lad was beyond a plain man's reasoning, that honest streak of his again no doubt. Why was it that Jack felt inclined to do so much for those that made no secret of their despite for him and all he stood for? No fathoming it to his mind. But Teague now he hadn't been so surprised, done nothing more than smile that strange smile of his when he knew what had been done, and Jack had cursed long and bitterly hard when it had become clear that his father must know. Yet it had seemed that the keeper were pleased, and with Teague that wasn't an easy thing to achieve.
But what would the keeper make of this venture he wondered?
That thought took him off at another tangent and he found himself wondering idly where Mrs Turner was now and if she would indeed stay true until Will returned. Jack would not be best pleased if she were not, and when Jack was that displeased he could become very.......piratey. Did she know tha,t he wondered? Did she know what Jack expected of her in return for his sacrifice, and what he might do to ensure that she kept her part of the bargain?
He was still considering that when he fell asleep.
The second passagway was no different to the first one, it too ended in a small room where walls became doors that led on to another passage way and doors vanished behind them. Nor did it end there, for Jack and Elanor found that the pattern repeated itself, one then another one and another until they began to fear that they were trapped in a shifting maze that might hold them forever. But they went on anyway for the closing doors gave them no choice but to go forward or sit down and wait to die.
Then, without warning, came a change, and not a welcome one. In the final room the door closed before the next one opened leaving them trapped in a space little more than ten feet by ten with no way out.
"What now?" Jack demanded as he stood staring angrily at the rock where the pattern told them that a new door should appear.
Elanor just shook her head. He leaned forward, forehead touching the rock and slammed his hand against it in fury,
"Why now? Eh? Why bring us here to die." He spun around and shouted towards the ceiling. "What game is it that you are playing? What do you want from us? Tell us and we'll do it. Just open the bloody door!"
His voice echoed around the small space but nothing else happened and he fell silent, sinking down in the corner head in his hands. Elanor went and sat beside him in silence. There really was nothing more to be said.
Minutes seemed to stretch to hours and all they could do was sit and wait for what ever was coming, unable to go forward and unable to go back. Neither spoke, their breathing the only sound breaking the silence. Later she would wonder how long they sat there but at the time it seemed like eternity.
Then the lights went out.
She felt Jack's in drawn breath as his hand moved cover her own, his skin was cooler now but the tendon's were stretched tight as a trip wire.
"What now?" he breathed.
She just shook her head and moved closer to his shoulder, her fingers gripping his as her other hand reached to clear the taser for firing. Jack squeezed her hand in warning and then loosed her, pulling his pistol free of his sash and half rising to his feet; she tensed, ready to do the same.
The suddenly there was light again, and a sound that might have been something from outside or might have been the sound of their shock. The wall before them thinned, its fading substances allowing light in from beyond it, pale turquoise light such as a diver might see in a reef. Beyond the room they saw a vast shelf of land, a flat and featureless plain, unnatural in its perfection. Or it would have been once, now it was mottled with weed and bisected with columns of coral,while fish danced everywhere and jellyfish floated on the current. Now the plain was beneath the sea.
The light changed again and Elanor had a moment of realisation.
"Jack," she screamed, "Don't breath."
Then the wall was gone and the water crashed over them.
End of Voyage 2
The story is continued in 'Interlude for two captains'