Disclaimer: This is a work of derivative fiction, done for my own enjoyment and that of my readers. Please see my author's notes for everything and everyone I don't own.
Ships That Pass In the Night
'Punished we were, disproportionate to our crimes.'
Hector Barbossa, Curse of the Black Pearl
It was a dark and stormy night. Some nights -- the kind when a full moon reflects off the floating bergs of the Ross Sea -- positively glow, and a man can read a ship's log by their light alone. Other nights are calm and clear, the surface of the sea as flat as a sheet of glass, with barely a ripple to disturb a sailor's rest. This was not one of those nights. It was dark. And it was stormy.
An early gale, a harbinger of the hurricane season, lashed the island of Tortuga, hiding moon and stars alike. The streets were as dark as a pirate's heart, save for an occasional flash of lightning, and the wind set any shutter not dogged down tight to banging.
Inside the Captain's Quarters, a tiny pub on an obscure back alley in a town that never really existed outside of the realms of imagination, the patrons were warm and dry, and the spirit of conviviality reigned. Sir Francis Drake and Horatio Hornblower were busily engaged in a friendly game of darts, while Lord Nelson kept score with his one good eye and his one good arm. At a table in one corner of the room, Leif Ericksen and Wolf Larsen had locked wrists, their brows beading with sweat, trembling muscles bulging with the strain, while Rafer Hoxworth, master of the whaler Carthaginian, waited his turn with the winner of the arm-wrestling contest. Other old sea dogs took bets on the outcome, throwing down wagers in the form of doubloons, pound notes, and greenbacks. Jason of Iolcus tossed in a hunk of gold-tinged wool for his portion.
In another corner, Phillip Francis Queeg sat muttering to himself, clicking his worry beads in one hand and cradling a dish of strawberries with the other. Captain Nemo, with hands more suited to working the keys of a pipe organ, regaled the room with sea chanties played on a tinny old upright piano. All in all it was a normal night at the haunt of legendary captains from both history and fiction.
The front door banged open, letting in a blast of wind and rain, and a young man entered, shaking droplets of water from his shoulder length brown hair. A whisper ran around the room: "New blood."
"Oh, bugger!" said Jack Sparrow, and made tracks toward the back. Davey Jones followed him, the two of them briefly getting stuck in the narrow doorway as they disappeared into the men's room. To a man, the rest of the patrons wished they could be flies on the wall during the next half-hour. Those two did not get along.
The newcomer, dressed pirate style in an open-necked red shirt, dark breeches and knee-high boots, looked around for a moment in confusion before going to the bar and uttering one word: "Rum."
The bartender complied, filling a heavy shot-glass to the top and sliding it over. Another man, tall with blond hair that reached down past his shoulder blades, sidled up close, his cloak billowing behind him. "Well met," he said, as the newcomer drained his glass. "This is your first time here."
The young man nodded. "Where am I? I'm standing on dry land; that can't be right. What is this place?"
Frowning and rubbing a dark spot in the middle of his forehead, the blond man said, "That may be hard to explain. In reality -- or whatever passes for your reality -- you are aboard your ship, asleep in your bunk. But you are here, at the gathering place for masters of great ships, because each and every one of us needs some surcease from the duty. It is an honor to be here, Captain . . .?"
"Turner -- Will Turner," the young man said. "And I don't want to be here."
"There are some who don't appreciate being a legend," said the other, with a nod to a table near the back where a solitary white-haired man in a trim blue uniform sat stroking his neatly clipped beard and nursing a gin and tonic. "That's E.J. His ship sank, with a loss of over fifteen hundred souls, himself among them. He doesn't socialize much."
Turner grunted. "More mess for me to clean up, then. My ship is the Flying Dutchman."
"I've heard of her. She's a good ship, and true -- under the right master."
"You don't understand," Will said, draining his glass and holding it out to the bartender for a refill. "I was the hero. I was supposed to win the day, marry my sweetheart, and settle down to a boring, happily ever after life of blacksmithing. Instead, I get this . . ." He pulled open his shirt to reveal a puckered, angry scar running from collar bone to sternum.
"Ai, Elbereth! Whom did you run afoul of? Morgoth himself?"
"Worse -- studio executives." Turner paused, his brows knitting. "Whatever that means."
"I hear many strange tales in this tavern," the other man replied. "Perhaps these fellows who condemned you are akin to orcs."
Turner shrugged. "I've racked my brain to discover what I might have done to deserve an eternity ferrying the souls of the dead. I loved a girl; I saved her. I loved my father, and I saved him too. My only crime is taking up with pirates to do it."
"Sometimes the punishment is disproportionate to the crime," the other man murmured.
"I can see my wife once in every ten years," Will went on. "I have a son who will grow up without me. He'll be a grown man the second time I lay eyes on him." He drained his glass and signaled the barkeeper for another.
"I see you have troubles, my friend. But you might want to slow down a little. You'll give yourself an aching head in the morning if you keep on drinking that swill."
"What would you know about troubles?" Turner replied bitterly.
"You might be surprised." The blond man smiled. "I too did what I felt I must. I sailed an epic journey and broke the rules to beg aid for the people and the land I loved. I fought a battle and destroyed an evil. And what did I get for my pains? They set me and my ship to guard the ramparts of the heavens -- with a great, glowing gem strapped to my forehead. It leaves a mark, comes near to blinding me, and gives me a headache worse than any night of drinking. My wife doesn't like the Void -- too dark and cold she says -- so she stays home with her birds and her tower of pearls. To see her once every ten years would be a treat for me. One of my sons grew old and died without my ever setting eyes on him again. The other . . . we don't talk much either."
"Some reward," Will said.
"Right, some reward!"
"No good deed goes unpunished."
"You have that right, my friend."
The two of them fell silent for a while, nursing their drinks.
When Will emptied his glass again and raised his hand to flag the barman, the blond man said, "At least stop rotting your brain with that rum. Have some of what I'm drinking."
The bartender brought a tall, slender crystal bottle chased in silver and refilled the stranger's glass while pouring a fresh one for Will. "Vodka," Turner said dismissively. "I've had it before."
The other man merely smiled. "Try it anyway."
Will sipped cautiously and then knocked back the glass in one gulp. "Water." Then a smile suffused his face. "But I feel better; stronger and more cheerful, somehow. What is this stuff?"
"Miruvor," the blond man said. "It's a secret blend."
"Thank you, my friend. I'll need it. Already, I feel the call of souls in need of transport. Somewhere on the Seven Seas, someone has drowned. I have to go." Will Turner stood up and looked toward the door.
"I must be gone from here as well," the other said. "I can never leave my ship for long. I will go with you."
"How much do I owe?" Will asked the bartender.
"Drinkin's free in the Captain's Quarters to them as have gained admittance," the fellow replied. "Go on, lads -- ye've both earned yer tab."
Outside in the streets, the storm had passed on, and the parting clouds revealed a multitude of stars. Will Turner extended his hand. "Time to bid you good night Captain . . . ah, I never did learn your name, my friend."
"Eärendil," said the other, returning the handshake with the firm grip of a long-time helmsman.
"That's an odd name," Will said.
"It's a very old one, meaning Lover of the Sea. I have been at my duty a very long time, with a long time still to come." He looked wistfully down the street to where a gap between the buildings revealed a sliver of beach and crashing breakers. "I loved the sea, and I've been exiled to the heavens."
"And I loved the land, and a woman, and I've been parted from them both," Will replied with a bitter laugh. "It seems the gods have keen sense of irony."
"And yet we both have an important job, never forget that. That's my ship, the Foamflower," Eärendil said, gesturing skyward, "and it stands guard against the end of the world itself."
Turner looked to the eastern sky. "That's the planet Venus."
Eärendil smiled. "So your folk call it. Mine called it Gil-estel, the star of Hope. In the years to come, when you grow lonely, weary and prone to despair, look to the sky and know you are not alone. Cling to your hope, Will Turner; there may come a release for you yet."
With a final clasp of hand to shoulder, the two men turned and left, the Mariner going one way and the captain of the Flying Dutchman the other.
Author's Notes: The character of Eärendil belongs to JRR Tolkien. Will Turner, Jack Sparrow, Davey Jones and this version of the Flying Dutchman belong to the Disney Corporation. Captain Queeg belongs to Herman Wouk. Rafer Hoxworth and the Carthaginian belong to James Michener. Captain Horatio Hornblower belongs to C.S. Forester. I believe Captain Nemo, Wolf Larsen, and Jason of the Argos have passed into the public domain, but I give thanks to their creators, Jules Verne, Jack London, and the ancient Greeks respectively. Sir Francis Drake, Leif Ericksen, and E.J. Smith belong to history.
Many thanks to my beta-reader, Ignoble Bard.