Interlude 3 By blood undone

The sun was strengthening, its light turning the faint shadows of the mainmast and it's rigging to hard black lines across the white expanses of the decks. Ariadne was about her business of managing the ship without the need to pay attention to it, her consciousness, if that were the right word, taken up entirely by her captain. More specifically how her captain came to be in the current state.

Elanor and Jack had not stirred even as Gibbs had left, remaining where they were, in a tangled heap beside the wheel. But the sun moving overhead was in some danger of adding sunburn to their woes if they did not wake soon. Ariadne admitted to herself that she was concerned, for the drink should not have affected Elanor in such a way, not even allowing for the volume and mix of it, and she had little doubts that her captain would be in need of some serious medical succour when she finally did awake. Which had better be sooner rather than later.

The alarm cut across the wind with a persistent wail, reaching into the darkness that enveloped her and past the shrouds of sleep. Elanor was suddenly aware that she was lying on the deck with a warm weight at her hip, a warm weight that was beginning to move. Then there was no awareness other than pain.

Ariadne noted the twin streams of curses and decided that Captain Sparrow was in no better shape than her captain, even if he were more practised at this event. She granted him silent marks for the unbroken stream of expletives and added several new phrases to her lexicon for later analysis.
"..God." Elanor groaned slowly as she carefully rolled herself over and clasped her hands around her head.
"If this is what alcohol does then I have underestimated your endurance Jack," Slowly she sat up, "it must take some to be willing to go through this more than once."

Jack, on hands and knees, eyes still closed and very pale beneath his tan, swallowed convulsively and just grunted. Then he began to crawl towards the below deck hatch muttering what sounded to Ariadne to be,
"Shoot that bloody sun, will someone please shoot that bloody sun. And shut the wind up from shrieking so loud while you're at it!"
He made it as far as a small patch of shade cast by a furled sail, then he carefully and slowly curled himself into a ball and groaned again as he wrapped his arms around his head.

Elanor had managed to get to her feet and was inching her way across the decks, moving as if she expected any jolt would shatter her,
"Unlock all hatches and doors Ariadne' she croaked "and sort out the best hangover cure we have available.
"Hangover!" Jack raised his voice and shuddered with the pain of it, but struggled to sit all the same, frowning at her bleary eyed as she passed him. "This is no hangover! We've been poisoned; I swear it. Someone had laced that bloody wine of yours with something nasty. I know there are a few who'd like to end me life but you never told me that there were those who wanted you dead too! How many people want to kill you pray and what have you done to them that they should choose so painful a manner?"
Elanor ignored him and continued to pick her way carefully across the deck. Jack collapsed full length again with a groan and prayed for the return of sleep.

Endless hours of pain later he was aware of something cold being pushed into his limp hand and he opened a bleary eye to see Elanor, still living and less green than she had been, on the other end of whatever it was.
"Drink this, the best the twenty second century can offer. Ariadne has concocted something that should cope with all the worst symptoms. Tastes foul, and I'm not sure if that's incidental or her way of making her displeasure felt, but it seems to do the trick. At least.." She rubbed the back of her neck, "I don't think my head is going to fall off any longer."

Jack took the cup and sipped it slowly, his pained expression showing just what he thought of it; then, drawing a deep breath, he swallowed the lot at a gulp. With a convulsive shudder that ended on a wince of pain, he set the cup down and leant his head against her thigh.
"I'd say thank you if I knew what it were that I was thanking for." He said faintly.
She patted the top of his head very carefully,
"No doubt you've tasted worse."
Jack swallowed on the recurring taste of the mixture and rolled his forehead against her leg, the closest he could mange to shaking his head,
"Not so sure about that," he belched quietly and swallowed hard again, "certainly don't recall anything being so persistent."

Elanor smiled faintly and eased her leg away from his head, then slowly and carefully she sat down beside him. She was starting to feel much better than she had done but was far from sure that the improvement would cope with any sudden motion, they could only be glad that the seas were so calm. Squinting up at the sky, her darkened glasses deepening the blue and blunting the bright edge of the sunlight, she wondered how the light must look to Jack. Drawing a deep breath of relief as the pain in her head began to fade, she looked back to him, his head still bowed, this time against her shoulder.
"So this is a hangover is it? How can anyone go through this and ever do it again?"
Jack shrugged wearily,
"This is not like any hangover I've ever known," he sighed as he rubbed his eyes. "I've drunk pretty much everything the world has to offer but I've never felt like this afterwards."
"How do you feel?" she asked curiously,
"Like every bit of me is being twisted and scrubbed at the same time," he complained as he moved to rubbing the back of his neck, "Headache, now that is not is not unusual, and the morning light can seem unfriendly, but this time it feels like a hundred fires are being lit in me brain at the same time. Feels like the world is moving too slow too, and I've never known that happen before."
He squinted at her as he stretched his back,
"What was it? That drink of yours I mean? For I swear to you it weren't the rum that did for us this way."
"Champagne. I think the hangover from it is supposed to be kinder than most, white wine usually is, but as I don't get hangovers....." she shrugged and let the words tail away, only too aware that this time she had.

"Don't get drunk either I recall you sayin', but you seemed drunk enough last night," he hunched a shoulder, "at least as I remember it."
"Do you remember much?" she asked with a sideways look at him.
Jack stuck out his tongue and pulled a face as the taste of Ariadne's cure came back to him again,
"Do you?" he stalled.
"Yes. Shouldn't I?"
"Not all, no."
"So you don't?"
He wriggled slightly, aware that the pains were easing, along with the headache, and wondered if there was any point in lying to her. Watching a boom shift slightly reminded him that they were not alone despite the empty decks, so there probably was not, not when her ghost would have seen it all and could tell.
"Actually I recall moren' I should given the way I felt when I woke." He frowned as memories came back in an unbroken stream, "Bit worryin' that. Wouldn't like to think that were goin' to happen too often."
Elanor smiled slightly,
"I recall you confessing that you are not as drunk as often as you claim."
"I recall you saying that you already knew that," he riposted, then shrugged again,
"Not safe to be as drunk as some think me much of the time, however, a drunkard is always discounted which can make escape easier should it be necessary. But when I drink in earnest I prefer not to recall it the morning after."
She looked down at his arm, the brand white against his sun and wind tinted skin,
"You drink to forget." Comment not a question.
Jack caught the direction of her look and gave a twisted smile,
"Aye, but then doesn't everyone? I make no special claim for needin' to forget Elanor. A man, or woman's, reasons may differ but the desired effect remains the same. As you said has to be some cause to risk the morning after."

He stood up a little uncertainly and let his hand fall onto her shoulder,
"And what of you Captain Cavendish? You who claim that alcohol doesn't touch you?"
She rubbed her hand across her eyes,
"I meant what I said Jack, it shouldn't have happened, and by that I mean that biologically it shouldn't have happened, not that I shouldn't have let it."
Jack's eyebrows climbed into his scarf and his mouth turned down,
"Ah, then it would seem you have a puzzle to be resolved." He cast her a speculative look, might as well make sure, "can your ghost help you? I assume she heard and saw everything?"
"She did."
"Ah." He said again, a little more uncertainly this time, "No point in pretending not to recall then?"
Elanor got her feet and patted his arm,
"None at all. For either of us."
"Thought not." He said slightly ruefully, watching her closely as she started to walk back to the hatch. When she was a pace away from it he asked the question, "So can she help?"
"I hope so. I'm going to set up some tests and see what she makes of the results." Elanor stopped and turned,
"Saying which, I want some of your blood."
"Why!" Jack took a hurried step backwards, looking a little alarmed, "I've done nothing! I was near a perfect gentleman as I recall, 'twas you that wanted to show me how you dance. Can't hold a man accountable for what wayward bits of him do when in such close proximity to one such as your good self!"

Elanor came as close to smiling as she had since waking,
"Even after a visit to Tortuga?"
Jack glowered at her, and at the memory.
"Might have enjoyed that more if you hadn't been so forthcoming with the details of certain... things. Never had to think about it before and now I do, changes a man's perspective a mite does that. Not being sure is one thing, knowin' is another."
She sighed and spread her hands,
"Sorry, but as I said then, I can't waste scarce resources on things that can be avoided. It seemed only fair to tell you so. But I'm not after a lot of your blood now, just a little to check something that's occurred to me."
"What!" he demanded round eyed.
"I'll tell you if it proves to be the case, but I won't know until Ariadne has looked at our blood. It won't hurt I promise."
"That is not the issue!" Jack replied with some asperity. "I'm a bloody pirate!"
"No, I suppose it's not." She thought for a moment, "It's Christmas morning so I'll raid the stores again and give you mulled rum and a bacon sandwich in exchange for a drop of blood. How about that." She looked at him for a moment longer, seeing that he still wasn't pacified, "With tomato ketchup or brown sauce or mustard, whichever you prefer," she offered.

Jack looked at her with tilted head for a long moment, obviously wondering what tomato ketchup and brown sauce were, then apparently satisfied that pirate honour was being upheld, smiled broadly, swaggered towards her, though with less casual abandon than usual, and took her arm,
"Both. No. Three. All. Fair exchange then Captain Cavendish, but never mind about the mulled."

***

Blood had been collected, Ariadne set to work and bacon eaten, with ketchup, brown sauce and mustard in turn and in combination, Jack's hangover was obviously fading, and a token measure of rum had been downed before the rattle of oars being shipped warned that Gibbs had arrived back. Though his exaggerated surprise at Jack's presence caused both captains to think that he had visited a least once before. Neither cared to speculate upon what he might have seen, but the glint in his eyes told them that he was hugging his secret knowledge in a manner that suggested it would be discomfiting to them. With one exchanged look behind his back they both silently agreed to ignore it.

If Gibbs were disappointed he gave no sign of it but hurried about his errand,
"Polly wishes to invite you to attend her Christmas day meal. She has three fine geese just set a'roastin' and all manner of other provender." He shot Elanor an apologetic glance, "I used some of your gold ma'am, last time we were here, to buy an extra sack of flour and some fruit and spices. A few sweet meats too. Didn't think you would mind, for there was plenty. Polly now, she has turned it into all sorts of pastries and puddin's. There's rum too, aye and canary wine she took in payment for some livestock if you would prefer it ma'am, and a bottle of old brandy that she has had since her husband were alive. 'Tis a fine feast she is plannin' and she'd be mighty honoured if ye both would join her in it."
Jack was smiling broadly, his whole posture exuberant and expansive, before Mr Gibbs had finished, obviously the bacon had not been enough to satisfy his post binge hunger.
"Of course we will! Tis an age an' more since I tasted roast goose. Not since before I were dead if I reckon it right. Would be pleased to sit at her table mate." He turned towards Elanor, "At least speakin' for meself I would. Can't speak for you of course, maybe Christmas is not the same for you? Perhaps you would prefer to keep it with your ghost?"
Elanor couldn't decide whether Jack hoped she would stay or hoped she would not, but for herself she was more than willing to spend some time with others, being alone with her thoughts didn't seem an attractive option for the moment. Keeping Jack at a distance for a few days would probably be a sensible move too, and that should be easier with Sally to draw his attention.

It was only when she was in the longboat that she remembered Polly's speculations about the pair of them, but turning back was not an option, not least because she thought that Jack might divine the cause of her change of heart.

***

The meal had been everything that Mr Gibbs had promised. The food better cooked than she would ever imagined in such a time and with so primitive equipment, the wine of good quality and the company keeping its curiosity more or less to itself. Two of Polly's neighbours had joined them for dinner, both escaped slaves she said, and both more respectful to both herself and Jack than she had expected, particularly to Jack. Obviously his legend was all he had claimed it to be, which made her wonder a little.

Once the food was cleared away and a reasonable amount of brandy and rum had been drunk Sally suggested they play a game or two, most of which seemed designed to give Jack an opportunity to slip an arm around her waist or claim a kiss as a penalty. Her mother watched her with a she-eagles eye but was reassured by the fact that while Jack was quite willing to play, stealing a quick kiss or two along the way, he was content for it to be under her mother's eye. He avoided the girls broad hints that they should find themselves a more solitary place. In fact he seemed to treat Sally as an amusing child and when she became too insistent he slid away to a seat beside Elanor to take up his rum bottle. Sally pouted and hung upon his arm, despite her brother's formidable scowl, and her mother's warning looks, until she caught Elanor's amused eye. Jack grinned as he saw the girl frown and he leaned across to apparently whisper something into his fellow captain's ear. At that Sally tossed her head and removed herself to the next chair, to sit very properly and sip her drink as if outrageous flirting with a pirate was the last thing she would think of. Jack saw a look of relief pass across Gibbs face and hid another smile taking another swig from the rum bottle before waving it in his comrade's direction.
"Christmas is a time for stories and I know none who tells 'em better than you Mr Gibbs, so let's be havin' one."
"Story capt'n, what sort of story would you be wantin?"
"Anything, " then he pointed a warning finger at Gibbs and stared at him with narrow eyes, "As long as it doesn't include my good self that is." He seemed to think for a moment then waved the bottle airily around him again, "Christmas seems right for ghosts to me, so let it be a ghost story. But leave a certain Mr Jones out if you please!"

Gibbs thought for a moment then smiled,
"Aye, well I know something that might suit. Heard it not long after I left the navy and afore I arrived at Tortuga. A story of another haunted ship, white as bone she was, and deserted but for an unquiet spirit who no man could see."
Elanor was wondering if he was making this up as he went along, using the Chaser as a pattern, in fact she rather hoped that he was because it would be uncomfortable to think that a story of a ship so like her own was circulating before she arrived here. But when Gibbs caught her eye his look was innocent enough and she was left wondering again, both about the story and if the teller was making the connections. With a sudden shiver of some superstitious feeling she decided that she didn't want to hear any more and so she rose and left the farmhouse heading down to the cliff path and the reassuring sight of her ship.

***

The night was cooler than usual and a stiff breeze was blowing in from the sea. Elanor leant against the gatepost and thought about the past few days and the flask of water locked in the strong room, and wondered what she was going to say to Jack. To someone who had no knowledge of genetics it might be a bit difficult to explain.

"What is it?"
Jack's voice came from behind her.
He'd come up to her silently, and when she turned and looked at him there was faint anxiety in his face, visible even in the fitful star light.
"Had enough of ghost stories?" She asked with a smile.
"Ah is that it then?" there seemed to be a touch of relief in his voice, "Thought that it might cut a little close to home. I doubt that Mr Gibbs meant it to, he's a fund of stories and the various elements are ..... interchangeable as you might say, for the company and the situation. He didn't mean to suggest that it were you and your ship he was speaking of."
Elanor turned back to look at the Chaser,
"No, I don't think that he did."

Jack sighed,
"Then why the prolonged absence? Is the company not to your taste? I'm surprised, I'd not thought you carried yourself so high."
A harsher note had entered his voice and when she looked at him the same hardness was in the set of his mouth. 'Did he feel insulted?' she wondered, whatever else he was Jack was a proud man in his way and he might feel slighted or belittled if she distained company he was so happy to tolerate. She allowed herself a moment to wonder how he had felt about the slights and insults he had experienced the past few years, and what folly their shadows might yet drive him to. But she pushed the speculation away; this wasn't the time for that. It might not be the right time for the truth either, and yet he expected an answer.

She shrugged,
"I don't. I've lived long enough to know better than that Jack. Anyway I like Polly and her family, I might not have that much in common with them but I like them all the same. It takes guts for a woman to make a living in such a place with so little help and so many hardships. I'm not Miss Swann, nor my maybe ancestor the Commodore, I'm quite well aware of how privileged the world I come from was."
Jack caught a note of bitterness in her voice and recalled, against his will it seemed, the sight of her distress at the memories of her past so recently relived.
"What then?" his voice had softened without his intending it,
"I needed to think."

Jack felt a sinking in his stomach at the reluctance he heard in her tone, there was something she didn't want to tell him, which didn't bode well given recent events. With an effort he stamped down on the sudden worry and struck a pose, head tilted and nose in air, struggling for a lighter note,
"Did you now! For the sake of your thinking, and with no thought for my safety mark you, you leave me unprotected from Miss Sally's advances and her mother's acid looks! A most un-comradely way of going on says I Captain Cavendish!"
Elanor gave a grunt of laughter,
"I somehow don't think that you need protecting from the Sally's of this world Jack, and I very much doubt that her mother's looks are being sent in your direction. Polly likes you, she just wishes her little miss didn't fancy you quite as much as she does."
Jack's expression softened further and he hitched himself up onto the fence at her side.
"I'd not queer Gibbs pitch, not when he's found so comfortable and accommodating a billet for himself." He said with a grin, "Anyways 'tis no hardship, she's a comely lass right enough, but the infantry is not really me preference, a man can get into all sorts of briars when he tangles with innocence, however enthusiastic it might be."
"How true!" Elanor replied in mock dulcet tone.
Jack shot her a suspicious look and pointed a finger at her,
"But I'll not be distracted Captain Cavendish. What was it that you were thinking that brought so solemn an expression to your face?"
"Does it matter?"
"As I have an uncomfortable feeling that whatever it was might have meaning for meself, yes it bloody does matter. So out with it! You were talking with that ghost of yours before we left the ship, and I'd bet a bottle of rum that it's got something to do with that. So I say again, out with it, what doom does your ghost predict for us?"

***

Ariadne watched the trace with something that in someone else might be called interest. There was little doubts that it was a pursuit but of whom by whom was the question. Data was not sufficient to make a definitive assessment, but it might well be the ship in question. For the moment there was nothing that could be done and it seemed unlikely that the chase would end yet, it was almost as if the sea itself was keeping the pursued ahead of the pursuers, but she would keep a watch on it all the same. It may yet be necessary to draw attention to the events taking place nearly a hundred miles away, but for the moment her captain could be left to the festivities.

***

"So, it was the fountain of youth after all." Jack said quietly, "and the price?"
He caught her look and smiled half heartedly, "always knew there would be one luv, there always is."
Elanor went back to staring out to sea,
"Slowing our body clocks can't be done without other things changing too," she said softly.
"Like you being afflicted by the demon drink?"
The silvered head bowed briefly in acknowledgement
"That was a side effect yes, but Ariadne doesn't think it will be a permanent one. It was just caused by further shifts in my body's chemical systems as the changes were written into my DNA. It seems to be stabilising again."
Jack frowned,
"DNA?"
"Yes, just think of it as a technical drawing. The blueprint that controls what a person's body looks like and how it performs. A set of commands if you like, one that decides and constrain how the machine works."
"Oh. And it is this DNA, this drawing, that the water is changing?"
"Maybe. Something is changing it, the fountain or the lake or just being in that place I don't know. It could be any of them or all of them together."

Jack thought about that for a while, and then came up with the obvious question.
"Is it changing..me?" he asked tentatively.
"Yes. More than it's changing me in fact; of course some of the changes were already made in my case. That may be why you were more badly affected down there."
"So are we not.... .people any more?" He sounded very uncertain about it now it was real and irrevocable. Elanor smiled but did not look at him.
"Well there are those who would say not, as I think I told you. But in all the real senses of the term we are still human, just not quite like we were before."
Now she looked across at him,
"But could a man who has been swallowed by a giant squid and spent unmeasured time dead and in the locker and then come back to this world be called that any way?"

That brought her a smile, but an uncertain one, and she sighed,
"You've got your wish Jack, if not to live for ever then at least to forestall returning to death for some considerable period of time." Her brow wrinkled as she realised she had better qualify that given Jack's manner of living,
" Well barring pistol ball, cutlass and the hangman's noose that is, as far as I can tell we are not immortal in any sense other than that our aging process has been virtually halted. I would imagine either steel or shot would render the matter of how long that virtually is somewhat ..immaterial."
"Ahh."
"Though Ariadne thinks we, or rather you, might be more resistant to disease than previously. Probably better not to bank on it until we know for certain though."
Jack frowned in thought,
"Don't recall having as much as a sneeze since I came back from the locker, so maybe that's not new either."

He paused for a moment then looked at her,
"Why did they do it? Whoever built that place? Did they fear death too?"
"Doesn't everyone, for some reason or another? But Ariadne thinks that it might be because they had a specific reason, a purpose that meant that they needed to live for a very long time."
"Why might that be?"
"Because they were going on a very long voyage."
"Where could they want to go that would need that number of years?"
She looked up at the sky,
"A very long way indeed."
He tracked the direction of her look upwards and his eyes widened,
"Up there! Now that is some voyage." A smile of appreciation lit his face. "A truly magnificent horizon that would be."
A bottle appeared from the depths of his coat and he raised it to the stars,
"Here's to you then, one and all of you, worthy sailors you must be."
He took a swig and handed the bottle to Elanor, watching with approval as she too raised the bottle to the sky and then drank.

"That place then, it produced the water for them?"
"Ariadne thinks so, probably processed from the lake. The water of life. Except that doesn't mean what you think, at least if she is right."
"Then what does it mean?"
"The water where life began, a tributary of the primordial sea, changed over the millennia of course, but still containing something that allowed them to distil the fountain water and use it to extend their lives."
She looked back to Jack,
"The mountain on top of it was probably built as some sort of selection or training facility to help choose the people who would go, or prepare those already chosen. If that is the case the you were right when you asked if it was managed by a ghost like Ariadne, it would be and that ghost was charged with making sure that they were prepared."
"Prepared! " Jack spluttered, "Seems like it nearly had us kill each other and then tried to finish the job itself."
"Well we can't be sure it would have let us murder each other, but if we had seriously tried then we would not have been what it was looking for. Making that choice might be what it is for, that and helping those it accepted to resolve their past, given that they were going to have to live with for a very long time. Grief, loss, guilt, a life time with them is bad enough, but a thousand life times? No you would want to be sure that they could cope."
"And we did! Ha!" Jack smiled brightly, obviously taken with the idea.
Elanor smiled in return and shook her head,
"No way of knowing Jack. I can't even be sure that Ariadne is correct in thinking that is what it was all about. But I hope it is and that we did pass whatever the test was because we are certainly going to face the same stresses as they did."

Her smile faded
" We are alone now Jack, more alone than either of us have ever been before."
She looked back towards the farmhouse,
"We will out live our friends and enemies alike, their children and probably their children's children's children. We face a world that will change around us, and only us, of all the people of the world, will live to see the conclusion of every action, the benefit of every advance and the outcome of every mistake."
She turned to face him again,
"Now do you see why I needed to think."

***

As Christmas night grew old Jack and Elanor returned to the farmhouse and its fires and candles, leaving the darkness, and the dark thoughts behind them. Jack had been uncharacteristically quiet for a while as they stood and stared at the stars, then he had put his hand on her arm and pulled it through his own. Without a word he had led her back to friends and light.

One of the visitors brought out a fiddle and started to play, almost on cue other people arrived and the resulting party moved into the barn, the music and dancing drawing surprised and plaintive bleats from the animals disturbed from their innocent rest. Jack had kept Elanor well supplied with wine and, with many flourishes and sly squeezes, he had shown her how to dance a reel; and, though he romped with grace and nicely judged flirtatiousness with Sally, whenever she found herself alone he somehow materialised beside her and steered her back into company again.

As the church bell chimed midnight and the candles burned low the visitors began to drift away and Polly headed back to the house to find them blankets. Jack, emerging from finally giving Sally her wish of a proper pirates kiss behind a bale of hay, found the barn empty and with a frown set about finding where his fellow captain had disappeared to. It had been clear that her previous immunity to alcohol had returned, and he was trying not to think how much strong drink he had consumed that evening for little effect, so he had no fear that she was collapsed in a corner somewhere, but her mood of earlier had made him a little concerned about what she might be up to. More than ever now he did not want her taking her ship and running for the horizon.

Cursing he set about searching ever corner and shadow for no return and was just about to set off for the cliff top when she strode through the doorway a worried looking Gibbs hot on her heels, with Polly and Sally not far behind.
"What? " he demanded as he saw the look on Gibbs face, "What is it?"
Gibbs just looked helplessly at Elanor.
"Ariadne had been .....watching events and she thinks she has seen the Black Pearl." She said quickly, then seeing Jack's dawning smile she shook her head, "If it is then she is behaving very strangely and she had the navy in hot pursui., Jack it looks like they might catch her."

Jack stared at her with growing ire for a moment then he picked up his hat from the rail beside him, rammed it onto his head and stormed towards the door,
"Bloody navy! Heathen lot. Always said they were." He hissed as he passed her, then at the doorway he turned in a swirl of hair and sash,
"Don't they know it's Christmas!"?

Voyage Three, Lucifers Sword, follows directly on from this