Chapter 33 A way prepared
There was no movement now. No sign of life.
Both ships were still, their hulls cocooned in ice and their furled sails stiff with frost. Like insects trapped in amber, held fast and safe by a frozen tether yet wrapped in chilly peace like winter stars. No hint of the blizzard's winds intruded upon them and no falling flake of snow drifted to their decks, though the wind still roared and whirling eddies of snow thickened the air within a spy glass rage. It seemed as if they were a thing apart, in a world apart.
The black timbers of the Pearl made no protest at the wrap of ice, instead silence lorded it over her decks. Nor was there movement, for no crewman scurried across those ebony planks or clambered on the frozen ropes. The light had paled to lilac, as if the evening of perpetual night had found them, and as it had done so an irresistible urge sleep had come to most of the crew. A sleep that could not be denied, however fierce the resolve to do so.
Jack had watched his crew surrender consciousness with a wry annoyance and a wakeful, though weary, sense of inevitability. As he looked around him he thought that his ship had truly become a myth, a ghost story once again, made solid in blackened wood.
Anamaria had been the last of them to succumb. Sitting beside Jack as they watched the light submit to shadow, she had fought the weariness that piled hot coals upon her eyelids and laid lead in every bone for far longer than any of the men. Realising that something more than common fatigue was involved in this sleeping she had sworn at the sky and clung to Jack as she cursed and spat and shouted her resolve to light blinded heavens, that she would remain awake to spite them. He'd not let her see his grin, knowing the futility of it while revelling in the defiance in her, but in the end she had lost the battle too as he had known that she would. Now she lay as close to peace as he thought had ever seen her, scarf slipped from her wide brow and with her tangled black hair fanned out across his knee. He watched her sleep for a short while, a hand playing gently with a strand of that hair and an almost affectionate smile curving his lips, before he settled her comfortably against a coiled rope and rose to turn and stare at the white ship.
Across the frozen ocean she waited with what seemed an eternal patience, her white timber made ethereal by the reflected glow of the ice and the lilac light, almost as if she belonged here. From this distance there was no making out what was happening on her decks but he could feel the silence rolling off her as he scanned her outline, still clear against the silver sheen sky. For a moment his heart raced and he surrendered to the lurking fear that he had been marooned again, alone on some other unknown shore he could not escape from. Memory took hold sending cold fire into his veins even as he gritted his teeth and swore at it. This ice was no less blinding than the sands of the locker and the open ocean as far away as ever it had been there. Maybe this time he was to be stranded with just a single version of himself, and he was not at all sure that was any improvement at all!
With another muttered curse at himself he crossed the decks and pulled out his glass, scanning the length of the Dawn Chaser, breathing a sigh of relief as he saw the figure of her captain appear from below decks. He watched her for a moment while he let his heart rate settle and the bile clear from his throat. Not alone then, for Elanor Cavendish seemed as untouched by this strange fatigue as he. Jack lowered the glass for a moment, frowning in thought as he scanned the sailor strewn decks, uneasily aware that whatever the ailment that affected his crew for himself he had never felt better in his life. With a half shrug he raised the glass again and resumed his watch of the other ship.
For some weeks now he had known of the ongoing influence of the water of life, at least he assumed that was the cause of his returned energy and zest for life. The bone deep weariness that had haunted him in the months after he returned from the locker was gone, and the sense of futility and vague despair that had accompanied it had now melted too. He felt himself again, perhaps for the first time since he had watched the Kraken embrace the Pearl. He was not only whole again, he was alive again, renewed again. Something hard and dangerous lay ahead, he was sure of it, and yet there was only anticipation and relish in his heart. Well… a little uneasiness perhaps, a little…. reluctance if he had to own it, and no point not doing so knowing the clear eyes of his soon to be companion in …. whatever it turned out to be. But nothing unknown, he was Captain Jack Sparrow after all and though it was true enough that he never sought battles for the sake of them it was also true that when they could not be avoided he fought as long and hard as any man. Just… less... in a straight line than many,….. more…. cannily. But battles were fought all the same.
Whatever it was that lay ahead could not be avoided, he was sure if that, and so he would square up to it and dare the devil himself to do his worst.
A thought struck him, its fist driving into his belly with a thud, and he lowered the glass again. It brought another, deeper, frown contracting as he recalled that it might, indeed, be the devil that waited for them. He shook himself then gave another careless shrug as he raised the glass again. Devil or not that was for later, and anyways how could he not win given that he was Captain Jack Sparrow and he had an angel at his right hand? Assuming she was still on her feet!
He hurriedly directed his attention to the white ship's helm.
Yes, the angel was still there, wide awake and with her head crowned in gold and silver by this strange light. Not so much as a yawn as far he could judge so it seemed she'd not go the same way as Anamaria. He ran his eye over the tidy decks, no splinter of ice seemed to mar the timbers so it would appear that her ghost, too, was awake, no doubt still haunting and would stand at their side. A comforting thought, given that she was something else to be reckoned with, though he still had to discover quite what it was that required the reckoning.
Reassured at last he lowered the glass and on a sudden whim spun to face the great cabin. There, behind those familiar scarred doors, lay the cause of all of this, curse the traitorous malevolent bugger! As he stared with narrowed eyes at the latch Jack was shaken by a sudden need to confirm that the old dog still walked in the land of the dead. With an unnecessary care he stepped over sleeping sailors as he made his way back across the decks, turning on impulse to shush an unseen object that rolled noisily somewhere before recollecting himself and glowering in the general direction of the rattle.
Yet he still reached for the latch with care, delicately manipulating it to allow a near soundless opening of the door. Carefully he peered into the frowsty gloom, sighing with something like relief when the sprawled shape of that other false claimed captain of the Pearl was lit by the strange light sliding in from the deck. He was about to withdraw when a sudden movement claimed his attention, he started intently into the gloom for a moment and then sighed noisily.
"Why am I not surprised?" he muttered.
Across the ice floe Elanor Cavendish had known of the events on the Black Pearl, Araiadne's shortened sight still reached that far, though no further now. As each member of the Pearl's crew had fallen asleep so her sense of inevitability had increased, and when only Jack and the two hiding in the cabin remained awake she had been sure that the curtain was about rise on the final act of this particular play.
"Sleeping Beauty," she mused as she watched the decks of the Pearl fall still and silent, "but who is the witch and where is the castle?"
Ariadne had heard and answered, clearly following the inference.
"I have no doubt you will be find it, for witch or not something seems to want you to do so."
"It would seem to be the case," Elanor agreed with a wry smile, "though I couldn't begin to hazard a guess as to whom or why. But very little has made any rational sense since the moment we first arrived. Even our arrival here remains to be explained."Ariadne seemed to draw a breath before replying, though Elanor knew that was nonsense,
"Perhaps they are all part of the same deviation from rationality,"
"Back to my fevered delusions," Elanor said thoughtfully. "Though I can't start to imagine why my subconscious should be coming up with such bizarre events. If I must have delirious dreams wouldn't paradise islands or mermaids make more sense than undead pirates and the sword of a fallen angel?"
"There is no reason why fevered dreams should not include such elements," Ariadne replied calmly, "but I understand your point, and cannot answer it. It seems unlikely that such a complex dream reality is without some basis for it's creation but so far I have been unable to deduce what the underlying issue might be. There seems to be no consistent thread that would provide an explanation"
There was a slight pause, and then Ariadne continued in a tone that was almost diffident,
"The creation of Captain Sparrow makes some sense given your own history, even the water of life could be fitted within a framework of general human desires and wishes, but this particular chain of events seems to make no sense at all. Though that may change as events develop."
"Why does that not reassure me Aridane?"
"Experience in this world most certainly." She sighed and headed towards the door, "But meaning or not there is no point to be served by putting what ever my subconscious is up to off. If it's not my own mind then I doubt there is much point in trying to delay either."
With Ariadne's agreement a murmur behind her she headed for the deck.
On the decks the ethereal, rather eerie, quality of the view was undeniable. Unsettling too, at least for a woman who had thought she had seen all that the planet had to offer. She cast a thoughtful look across the ice and towards the Pearl wondering what Jack made of it. The purple silver light was not familiar, she had sailed all of the waters of the globe and never seen anything like it. She had watched the sun bleed red and the blackness of night smother day in every overheated corner of the globe, and most of the frozen ones too, but she had never experienced this kind of glow before.
"It's as if it's not light at all," she muttered as she watched the dark shadow of the Pearl glowering against it, "not even the Northern lights have this type of quality."
Ariadne, whose hearing could catch the smallest sound, replied in a rather subdued tone,
"I cannot comment upon that assertion but it is notable that the scanners seem unable to determine the wavelength."
Elanor's eyes narrowed,
"Another impossible occurrence," she said softly, "The only way that should be the case is if it is not light at all."
"Indeed. To be more exact not electromagnetic at all."
"True," Elanor almost whispered, "Scary isn't it. Light that isn't light in the sense that we know it, or something entirely different to anything we have ever known."
"At least in human times." Ariadne offered just as softly.
"So tell me Ariadne, why would my mind invent something so unknown and unbelievable when it has plenty of known but strange phenomena locked in the memory banks?"
Ariadne was eternally patient but for a moment Elanor imagined a hint of weariness in the tone of the reply,
"You know that there is no answer to such a question, certainly not while we do not understand the point of this place."
"So you assume it has a point?"
She thought about that for a moment then nodded,
"Yes either it's my equivalent of Jack's locker or something like it, or….we are indeed somewhere where the laws of physics don't necessarily hold true." She paused for a moment, looking back towards the Pearl, "and if it's that then we both know where we are, at least in general terms. Don't we?"
"Beyond time and space and therefore outside the main structure of physical reality and the universe."
Ariadne did not mince her words in such circumstances.
"Yes, and though I know its true, and I know that you know that I know that it's true, I'd really rather you hadn't answered that question." She thought back over what she had just said, "Oh God, I think Jack speak is catching!"
There was no need for a boat for the ice was firm enough to walk on with confidence, at least it was for Jack.
'But then he would probably walk with the same confidence over burning coals in pursuit of something he wanted.' Elanor thought as she watched him descend the sea steps and step out onto the ice with no apparent caution.
Behind him trailed two bedraggled and somewhat woeful looking figures. Even at this distance one of them radiated misery while the other positively glowed with hard done by indignation. Pintel and Raggetti were going to regret their wakefulness before the business was finished; somehow she was sure of that. Looked like they might thing the same.
'They escaped retribution for the deeds of their undead days,' she thought, "Or perhaps they didn't, perhaps that was just delayed and they are currently trekking towards that same reckoning. Barbossa is having to settle up, so why should they be different?"
She watched the three figures start across the expanse of lilac tinged white between the two ships with a slight smile, ice or not it was not that cold yet she was sure that the two woebegone sailors would deny that.
Cold or not they must be very afraid.
Maybe Jack was the lucky one, his knowledge of the continuance of life was sure and his time in hell already served. Maybe he, of all the survivors of the battle with Beckett, was the one who had nothing left to make reparation for. After all only man believed that God expected unsullied perfection from the creation, God after all had never said anything of the sort. As she watched him swagger across the ice as if nothing more dangerous than a little dalliance was waiting at the end of the walk she could imagine that an all seeing deity might well consider that Jack was worth a little exercise in forgiveness.
Her faint smile became broader as a small figure suddenly appeared behind the three men. On all four feet and with tail poker straight the monkey hurried after them, its paws apparently unaffected by the cold of the ice. With a final spurt it passed the bickering sailors and launched itself up onto Jack's shoulder. She laughed as she watched Jack come to a halt, outrage written in every inch of him, his scowl almost visible at this distance. He turned his head to stare at the animal on his shoulder, dropping his hands to his hips, and his sword hilt as he did so. But the monkey seemed unmoved, wrapping its tail around its haunches and apparently tightening its grip. She could imagine the insults the two traded in the seconds of Jack's stillness. But he made no move to brush the creature away and after a moment more he raised one hand and shook a warning finger in the furry face. It was impossible to see the response but it was not so hard to imagine. Jack slowly dropped his hands and after a final stare resumed his swagger towards the Chaser.
Obviously the monkey intended to keep a simian eye on its master's interests, and Jack, for reasons of his own, was apparently content that it should. Though Elanor doubted he would tolerate it as a passenger for very long. Nor did he, as he reached the Dawn Chasers sea steps she heard him say,
"'Tis far enough, you impudent parasite. Scedaddle now before I make a fur hat of you! Don't think I won't, would be far more use in this cold."
The monkey's replying chatter suggested it was unimpressed by the threat, but it dropped from his shoulder and swarmed up to the Chasers deck and then up a rat line and out of human reach. There it settled itself, watching carefully as Sparrow clambered onto the white ship as if waiting to see what he would do next.
"Every one else asleep then?" she asked as he allowed her to hand him over the rail.
"Aye, excepting this pair." He jerked his head at the head of Raggetti just emerging above the deck. "Didn't seem that I would be allowed to leave them behind so I brought them. Though I can't put me hand on me heart and tell you that I know what for luv. Useless pair of …" the last word was hurriedly swallowed and cast her an apologetic look.
Elanor masked her grin and behaved as if she had not been aware of his sudden halt, she had noticed his tendency to watch his language in her presence before, just as she had seen him guard it in Elizabeth's; though he could have no illusions about their knowledge of any profanity he could come up with. It was one of those things that made her wonder just what nature of man was buried within the persona of Jack Sparrow.
He glared up at the monkey again fingering his pistol in a suggestive manner before he scowled at Elanor and jerked his head in its direction,
"Not here by my choice, flea laden mutinous wretch that it is. But there was no making it go back. In those circumstances I prefer to have the dog…..er...creature under me eye. I'd be betting that Barbossa sent it, least ways I would if there were any sign of Barbossa sendin' anything anywhere."
"He's not woken up then? I wondered if he might when all the others went to sleep."
That caused him to frown, then shrug,
"Well strictly speakin I'd not be sayin' he is asleep, just …. Not here… well here … in that he's still in my bloody cabin but not…. here, with us if you take my meanin'"
"I do. So there is something more about this than just the division of the living, dead and once dead."
Jack gave her a narrow eyed look, and she smiled slightly. His mouth twisted slightly, then shrugged,
"When Gibbs succumbed I knew it were more than simply havin' been to the locker, were sure when I saw that your good self were still awake."
"Yes, I'd thought that too."
He turned away from her as he heard Pintel arrive on the deck still complaining. Pintel had probably complained the whole way and Jack's temper had suffered for it, even without the added complication of the monkey, at least that was how she interpreted his gravel voiced snarl as he rounded on the hapless pair ,
"Stow it! Not my choice that you pair of witless maggots have been chosen for this venture is it? Find me another man awake and I'll willingly have them instead, Aye and more than willingly. But there's not another man awake on the Pearl so it has to be you. If it were me own choice I'd leave you mouldering beside that animated corpse back there, but I'm not of the mind that I have the choice. If it were then you'd be in the arms of the sand man like the rest of them. Seems to me that for some reason the…. thing that waits ahead of us wants to catch a glimpse of your unprepossessing selves. Though what that says for its foresightedness I'd prefer not to speculate."
Elanor watched him with a smile on her face wondering just how much fear was lurking behind the acerbic words. In all honesty she could not blame him, the realisation that they would be going into something so unknown with only this pair as back up was making her uneasy too.
"Stay here." he hissed at them. " Here I said and here I mean, not a toes length further. Keep yer hands to yerselves and yer eyes on the decks. Move and I'll be lettin' the lady's ghost make sport with yer. Savvy?"
"Aye Capt'n." Tney said together, then glared at each other.
Jack gave them a sour look,
"Well mind yer do."
After one last lingering glare he turned away towards Elanor and catching her eye jerked his head in the direction of the below decks hatch. She simply nodded and turned away, hearing only the rustle of his coat skirts against the silence as he followed after her.
"How are we supposed to find them sir, we have no indication of where they have sailed."
Groves stared at his commander, worried and shaken by both the turn of events and his own temerity.
"I have no expectation of doing so Mr Groves, unless it is intended that we should. But we know they headed north and we can follow in as much as we steer north too and ensure that no enemy follows their line."
Hathaway sounded as calm as ever though there was a faint note of warning in his voice.
Groves stiffened his back and squared his shoulders, repressing the desire to ask what the other man had meant by his reference to others intentions. Hathaway's face was expressionless but Groves had no doubt that it was not the Spanish he was meaning and Groves had had more than enough of the strange to last him a life time. But nor did he doubt that something other than a normal enemy was governing Sparrow's behaviour. But then the whole world seemed touched by something other than the usual as Hathaway had commented when Groves first entered the cabin. For days now the crew had been muttering, portents seen in very shoal of fish and following bird. The men kept their voices low, the words hard for the officers to make out but no one doubted the substance of the whispers. Nor could the officers truly blame superstition for there could be no denying that the wind and the skies were behaving in a strange way. Even the sun had a tinge that he had never seen before when it showed itself and though the cold was raw he found himself praying that that sun stayed behind the clouds rather than face the sight of frightened men muttering prayers at the sight of the blood red light that seemed to drip like gore into a sea suddenly blacker than any he recalled.
A sea shot with strange mists in which odd lights flickered, the disappeared to leave holes like unshuttered windows through which no man wished to look. A sea licked by winds sprang from no where, blowing sometimes cold and sometimes warm, rips of air that seemed to speak, that whispered the knowledge of a man's fear into his ear.
If the Black Pearl had sailed this way by choice then she was on her way to something that Groves did not care to think of.
Hathaway looked up from his maps and smiled,
"I know what the men are saying Mr Groves, and I like this turn of events no more than they do. But if Sparrow is aboard the Black Pearl then it is likely that he has the heart of Davy Jones, or what ever hold he has on the creature, with him. That must not be allowed to fall into enemy hands; you of all men must know that. You saw what Beckett did with it, do you think we would fare any better than the pirates did if one of our enemies were to gain control of it? It must be kept out of their hands, and for the moment that means that Sparrow must be kept out of their hands, for I have little doubt he knows how to use his advantage. Why else has the Flying Dutchman vanished again? I would have expected Jones to be more than willing to take his revenge upon those who spawned Beckett, that he has not been laying waste to the seas must be laid at Sparrow's door for there can be nothing else holding him back."
"We must be glad that the pirate seems to have no desire for revenge, or that other factors are holding him in check. But there can be no ease for anyone until his intentions with regards to his advantage are known."
"Sparrow is an odd man I grant you sir, but I can see no reason why he is holding his hand in the matter."
"Nor I, Mr Groves, nor I, other than the possibility that he has no taste for such power. A wiser man than many of that is the case. That he can pursue an end with stamina and dedication is clear from his destruction of Barbossa, at least as Mr Turner and Miss Swann reported it, and we have no reason to doubt their report."
Groves face took on the blank expression it usually wore when Elizabeth Swann was mentioned.
"No sir. It was clear that he had planned for that for years."
"So it would seem. So Sparrow might yet have plans for his advantage that he has put into play, or that may be laid but unseen."
Groves looked uneasy at that recalling how the pirate had bettered Beckett. Hathaway caught the look and smiled grimly,
"Yes it is an uncomfortable thought, and I would welcome the chance to discuss the matter with him."
"How could we stop him if that is his plan sir?"
"With difficulty Mr Groves, but there are …incentives that might sway him. At least if I read him correctly."
Groves could only wonder what incentives might be offered to a pirate but it was clear that Hathaway did not intend to say more, indeed it seemed that their conversations were at an end as the captain returned his attention to the maps,
"Give the order to the helmsman to stay heading north Mr Groves, whatever strange events run ahead of us."
It seemed an eternity of waiting to Raggetti before the two captains returned from the below deck fastness, and one not eased by the constant under breath muttering of Pintel. He had kept his head dipped as Jack had instructed but he had risked regular squint eyed glances around the decks despite his fears. Not that there had been anything to see, in fact there was so truly nothing to see that his blood froze in his veins at the realisation. Not sight or sound of a crew, no discarded tankard, nor scrap of carved wood or flake of spilled pipe fillings were to be seen anywhere. All ship shape true enough but no sign that a man had ever worked these decks since the ship were launched. It was silent too, not a creaking timber or scurrying rodent to be heard. Quieter even than the slumbering Pearl. Uneasily he tried a few more visual gymnastics, looking for something to reassure him. The decks had the bleached white sheen of bone, the three masts towering above them were as straight and smooth as a maidens shin, the grain unmarred by burr or split and unnaturally perfect in their quiet strength. The canvas, if canvas it was, so tight furled that it made his hands ache just to look at it, the thread so dense it could not be seen in the overall whiteness of it. No, he had no difficulty in believing this was indeed a ghost crewed ship, no difficulty in believing it were a ghost ship itself at that.
He prayed silently that the two captains would be quick about what ever business had taken them out of sight, for a ghost ship was not their only worry. Beyond the ship other things were happening, things that had Pintel staring out to sea in narrow eyed worry and caused Raggetti to close his eyes in desperate hope it would be gone when he opened them.
The icy world around them had grown darker as if a lamp had been doused or a candle slowly shielded, the skies turned towards night and the silver blue light took on the mantle of a deeper purple. Within the encircling ice white fires seemed to catch light, the flickering of them sending sparks of silver out from the ice to dance around the two ships. Pintel drew a sharp breath and cursed, reaching out to grasp Ragetti's arm in a vice like grip.
"Look at that!" he hissed an unusual awe tingeing his voice.
"Rather not, if it be all the same to you." Raggetti muttered, "Capt'n said not to look, so I'll not. Can get real righteously indignant can Capt'n Jack in such circumstances."
Pintel sighed in irritated virtue
"He said not to look at the ship now didn't he? Said nothin' about not lookin' at the sea."
Raggetti held his ground,eye still closed.
"Don't rightly recall him mentioning what not to look at, just the general prohibition at lookin' so to speak."
"Well no reason not to look at this, he'll be draggin' us out into it soon enough unless I'm much mistaken." A wheedling note entered Pintel's voice despite the undertone of fear, "he'd be wantin' us to be prepared I'm thinkin'"
"Oh," Raggetti said faintly, "Aye, prepared, that he would."
Slowly he opened his good eye and swivelled it towards the sea. Then he closed it again abruptly.
Behind them the sky had darkened to black, but it was the black of a cave mouth or a hole in ground. Somehow a chink had appeared in the sky itself through which dark mist seemed to seep, mist that looked to carry a hint of fire and noise within it for all its darkness and silence.
"'Tis weird it is, "Pintel whispered, "eerie no less."
Raggetti opened his eye again in time to see the descending mist appear to embrace the rising silver sparks, whirling them up into a snow storm of smoke and white fire. As the two sailors watched the silver shot mists formed themselves into a ribbon that fanned out across the ice spreading further from the ships until the out edge could no longer be seen.
Raggetti jumped as hand fell on his shoulder and he looked up the attached arm in wide eyed terror as if expecting to see the devil at the very least, only breathing again when he saw the frowning face of Jack Sparrow. As they had stared the two captains had returned and now both stood watching the ribbon widen and deepen in silence.
"Follow the yellow brick road," Elanor muttered into Jacks ear. "Someone wants to be sure we don't get lost, or something."
"Aye, 'tis clear it is a breadcrumb trail of some kind, but I can't help wonder if it will be so accommodating as to show us the way back."
"Why lead us out if it doesn't want us to come back? Barbossa is still on the Pearl after all."
"That he is, the only crumb of reassurance we are likely to get."
He sighed and stared up at the sky, the black void now more clearly distinguishable from the rest,
"The mouth of hell you think, or more of your bloody quantum?" he asked.
Elanor shot him a surprised and respectful glance,
"Very possibly more of my bloody quantum, or something related."
"One day I'll get the truth of that from you," he sighed, "but not this day I expect. Still, can't be much doubt about what's required."
Bending down he picked up the pack at his feet and stared up at the sky drawing a deep breath as something seemed to explode within it.
Elanor watched him for a moment then bent and picked up her own pack,
"None what so ever."
Jack nodded then looked back to the two men beside him, doubt written in his face before he shrugged and gave Raggetti a push,
"Time we was movin'."