Chance Encounter V: Fountain of Youth
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Chapter 1: Live a Little
The chanting went on, repeating, unending. Energy filled the air around them as it gathered; an intangible force. It was not something that could be physically detected, for it could not be seen, it had no scent, it made no sound. The only thing that could sense this energy was a soul.
It surrounded the spring in the centre of this circle of men, and as it did, a net was woven around the spring, hiding it from the rest of the world. "Immortality should never come to those who were meant to die," said the eldest of the chanters. He had lived so long that no one could remember a time when he had been young. In fact, there was a rumour that he had been born old. "The day someone finds this spring will be a sign that the end is near."
The world was becoming grey. He walked in the shadows of twilight alone in complete silence. There was nothing except the whisper of cold breezes that carried voices from ancient memories. His feet felt heavy. Suddenly, he staggered and he flailed, reaching out for something to steady himself with. There was a tree, leafless and long dead. The bark felt rough against the skin of his palm. He leaned against it, his chest heaving as he tried to regain his breath. As he looked on, he realized that his skin seemed to be growing thinner and looser by the moment. Blotches appeared. Even the shape of his hand had changed. His fingers, once long and slender, had become gnarled and misshapen. The cold seeped into his bones. As he watched, the skin began to disintegrate and fall from his bones until there was nothing left but a skeletal hand...
Legolas sat up. He was bathed in cold sweat and gasping for breath. He was the only one who was awake. The rest of the crew were still deep in sleep, untroubled by dreams of death. He looked at his hands. They were still smooth and unblemished but somehow, they felt weaker. He rubbed his face with one hand. The nightmares were becoming more and more frequent, and unfortunately for him, he needed more sleep these days. He needed the sleep of mortals. The elf shivered. He felt the cold more keenly too, and he was beginning to comprehend just how much the other members of the Fellowship had suffered when they had attempted to pass over Caradhras. How strong willed his companions had been!
A dull headache throbbed behind his eyes, and his nose was blocked. Apparently, this was a 'minor cold'. He was never ever going to tease his mortal friends for complaining about colds again. It was impossible for those who had not experienced them to know just how 'hellish' they were, to borrow a word from some of his closest mortal acquaintances. He pulled a blanket around his shoulders and swung his feet over the edge of the hammock. It was impossible to fall asleep again after such a dream. It was so vivid. Even now, he half-expected to see himself wither away.
The boards of the ship creaked. At least they were sailing through still waters for now. The elf carefully picked his way between the rows of hammocks and made his way to the steps which led up to the deck. He needed some fresh air and perhaps the sight of open sky. The stars, as distant as they seemed now, were still a welcome sight. Someone muttered something about tentacles in their sleep. Probably one of the pirates. The ship was rocking gently like a cradle, making it difficult for him to balance. Jack had said that he would find his 'sea legs' soon enough. A year ago, he would not have had these problems.
Once again, he cursed Ambrosius de Magio. That cardinal had been more trouble than he was worth. And although Legolas was hardly ever one to hold uncharitable thoughts about those who were not orcs or trolls or creatures of the dark, this was one man he could neither forget nor forgive.
The cold ocean breezes made him shiver again, despite the blanket. He hated being so frail, so weak. "You shouldn't be up here, y'know," said a familiar drawl. "Now that you feel like one of us mere mortals and all, you're gonna need your rest."
"I can't sleep, Jack," the elf replied. "I don't like being away from the stars."
"That's jus' an excuse, mate, an' you know it," said Jack from the stern. The pirate had one hand on the wheel and was holding his compass with the other. "I wish this damn needle would stop spinnin'," he muttered, giving the compass a shake before snapping it close again. "You can't sleep coz of them nightmares."
"You know about them?" asked Legolas. If Jack knew, then who else knew? He didn't want the entire crew to be aware of just how many problems he had. He didn't like being frail, and he liked letting others know of his frailty even less.
"Who doesn't know?" said Jack with a shrug. "It ain't nuthin' to have nightmares from time to time when you're under a bit o' stress. I get them, the Perfect Knight gets them, that damn monkey gets a hell of a lot of them..."
"Thank you, Jack," said Legolas. "I feel so much better after having been compared to an undead monkey."
"I'm jus' sayin' that you're not alone, mate," said the pirate. Even though Legolas could not see his face very well, for the thin sliver of moon in the sky gave very little light and he was half-blind, as far as he was concerned, he could almost hear the grin in Jack's voice.
"How do you deal with them, the nightmares?" asked Legolas hesitantly. Jack was right about one thing; he did need rest. The lack of sleep was taking a toll on him.
"Why do you think I like rum so much?"
"I recommend absinthe if it's a sleeping draught that you're looking for," said another voice behind the elf, making him whip around and reach for his knives before he realized two very important things. One, he did not have his knives with him, and two, he had no need of them. Once again, he was reminded of just what he had lost, as if he needed reminding at all. Before that encounter with a certain cardinal in that forest in Europe, Will Turner would never have been able to sneak up on him like that.
"I don't think Lizzie would approve of that, mate," Jack pointed out.
"I'm not the one drinking the absinthe, Jack," replied Will.
"Ah, but the fact that you have it means that you have been drinking it at some point, savvy?"
"That is pure conjecture and you know it!"
"There is always some truth behind a conjecture, Whelp..."
Legolas let them argue. Their voices were familiar and comforting, and so was the bantering. Some things never changed. His thoughts wandered back to the day when Jack had burst into Aragorn's largest conference room whilst a meeting of the High Council had been taking place, blabbering about a fountain of immortal life. The startled councillors had been so stunned that they had only been able to stare at the seemingly mad pirate —who had been extremely loud— for many moments before someone had thought to call for the Elite Guard. Of course, the Elite Guard had been captained by Achilles, who, instead of throwing Jack out as the councillors had thought he would, had started asking about the location of said fountain, thus resulting in many of the councillors wondering if the King had been intoxicated when he had appointed these men to their positions. Legolas himself had been standing in the doorway of the conference room, seeing the first rays of hope ever since he had been poisoned. Needless to say, that meeting of the High Council had ended rather quickly and unexpectedly.
After a long rambling and incomprehensible explanation by Jack, Aragorn had granted them permission to leave Gondor in search of this legendary Fountain. They all knew why he had released his best naval officers, his head siege engineer and his trusted advisor from their duties, and it wasn't because the fountain itself had piqued his interest.
Therefore, Legolas and his friends had left behind everything familiar, including wives and children, in order to find a quiet secluded place with a good 'strange vibe', as Jack had called it, where they could flip the ship and hopefully end up in World's End, which was the transitory place from which they could reach any world. At least, that was the theory.
Of course, they were making this voyage with a different ship this time, for Aragorn had not let them go without conditions. One of them was leaving the Black Pearl behind.
"Raiders from the coast have been kept at bay simply because they know the reputation of the Black Pearl and of our navy," the king had said. "Therefore, the Pearl stays in Gondor. I need her presence to enforce the illusion that my admiral and naval captains are still here." Thus, they had taken another ship, one that they had built according to Jack and Barbossa's specifications. They had creatively named her the Black Opal and this was her maiden voyage.
The Opal was the same as the Pearl in every respect except size, and name, of course. Even the sails were black. The Opal was slightly larger than the Pearl, with ten cannon ports on each side and a triple gun at the front —at Will's insistence. It was slower, because of the bulk, but just slightly. Many fondly said that it was the Pearl with armour.
"With all the noise you are making, I wonder how anybody is expected to sleep," said Paris, stepping out from below the deck. He had changed a lot ever since Legolas had first met him. There was now an air of maturity about him, and he wore it well. If anything, it only made him all the more charming. His ran his fingers through sleep-tousled curls, messing them up even more. This was not easy for him, leaving behind his wife and very young daughter —again— so that he could go along with his brothers in arms on yet another misadventure, and it was bound to be a misadventure. However, Helen had understood that he would never be content to be left behind.
"You would worry about them unceasingly if you were to remain," she had said to him in front of everyone else, that was to say, their odd family consisting mainly of people who had no blood relationships at all. Andromache had said the same and in the end, it was the womenfolk who had helped the prince to decide.
"If no one's expected to be able to sleep, why is everyone else still sleeping?" retorted Jack.
"Balian can sleep through a siege. You know that," said Paris. "As a matter of fact, so can Achilles."
"I might be able to sleep through a siege, but even I cannot sleep through this ruckus," said aforementioned knight as he came up to join them. "Although, I have no idea why no one is sleeping. We could be shipwrecked any minute. You might as well sleep while you can."
"And because we could be shipwrecked any minute, I would rather be prepared and awake when it does happen," said Paris. Being more of a diplomat than a warrior, he was always more tense than the others when it came to the prospect of facing something that could not be overcome by wits and words alone. This was something that he was always teased about, although Legolas suspected that he was secretly very proud of being the only decent diplomat in this rabble of princes and pirates and everything in between.
"You're more worried than our resident grandfather," said Jack with a snigger. "Barbossa's out like a light, jus' the way I like 'im."
"Unfortunately for you and I both, Jack Sparra, I be unable to remain that way for long with the noise you be makin'," said the old pirate as he, too, emerged from the hatch which led to the crew's sleeping quarters. By rights, he really ought to be in the captain's cabin, or so he claimed, but since he was a 'gentleman', he had offered the captain's cabin to the ladies of the crew, although that had been after much persuasion from the true gentlemen. After all, he and Jack had almost drawn swords over who got to have the captain's quarters. This had been the best solution.
"Has anyone realized that the moon is still high in the sky and that the sun has not been seen yet?" came a voice from within the cabin. The men stilled. If Barbossa was the most seasoned out of all of them by merit of age and the number of deeds of questionable legality that he had performed, then Elizabeth Swann-Turner was quite possibly the most ill-tempered of their company, followed closely by Anna-Maria. Jack maintained that it was Elizabeth's privileged upbringing that made her so 'snappy', as he had so eloquently put it once. Legolas, however, was of the opinion that it was simply because she was female. After all, Anna-Maria had had anything but a privileged upbringing, but she was hardly any more mild-tempered than the Pirate King.
"Achilles has, Lady Elizabeth," called Paris. "Then again, he did lose abysmally to me in Liar's Dice."
"It is not his fault that he is an honest man!" said another woman. "Unlike some others, I might add."
"There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, dear cousin!" cried Paris without even missing a beat. "I fear that your beloved captain is too honest for his own good, honesty being a euphemism for simplicity." Paris and Achilles had used everything in their power to dissuade Briseis from joining in. However, stubbornness seemed to be a trait of the House of Assaracus, for she had adamantly refused to be left behind, no matter how persuasive Paris' arguments had been or how much Achilles had begged —and yes, the great Achilles had been reduced to begging his wife in the end. She, however, had merely had to point out that she was a lot more adept with a sword than her cousin was before Paris had —for lack of a better term— 'shut up', leaving Achilles to fight the losing battle on his own.
"Did I hear wrongly, or did someone just call me simple?" There was silence, and then the entire crew started laughing.
"Methinks the Greek did not lose so 'abysmally' after all," said Barbossa.
"Well, now," said Paris, flustered that his assumption had been proven wrong. Legolas supposed that since he was hardly ever wrong, it only stood that he would have trouble accepting those times when he was. "Since we are all awake, maybe we should flip the boat now?"
"It ain't that simple, princeling," said Jack. "Remember the whole 'sunrise sets' part? We gotta wait until the next sunset."
"Great," muttered Paris. Now he did not have the advantage of dunking those who would otherwise laugh at him for his mistake.
"Therefore, we might as well enjoy ourselves while we wait, savvy?" said Jack. "Now, who's up fer a game o' Liar's Dice?"
The cold of the water came as a sudden shock after all the exertion from after having run from one side of the ship to another. Balian barely managed to keep his mouth shut against the rush of sea water. There was a flash of green light, and he felt himself being pushed through the water by some unknown force. Pale bubbles, illuminated by the green light, obscured his vision. The water roared as it rushed past his ears.
Then they burst into warm sunshine and sultry still air. It did not take a genius to figure out where they were, for they had been here multiple times. In fact, they had been here more times than they had been to any other place.
The Frenchman shook his head and pushed his wet hair away from his face. All around him, the crew were already climbing to their feet and Jack was shaking water out of his hat. Just as he had expected, there was no other ship, except...
"I am beginning to think that you have a death wish!" shouted the captain from the other ship.
"Not a death wish, Hector!" Paris shouted back to his brother. "Aren't I allowed to visit my brother once in a while?"
"What have you done this time?" The expression Hector wore was one of a patient parent waiting for his child to confess. Now, Balian had not been a child for a very long time, and theoretically, Hector was only a few years older than him. However, at the moment, he was getting a very good sense of what his son must feel like when he admonished him for doing something.
"It's more like what we haven't done yet," said Jack with a snort as he wrung out his bandana and sash. The water that came from the fabric was rather greyish looking. "We gotta get back to my world, y'know? So you're at the right place, because we need your help to make sure that we do end up in the right place, savvy?"
"What be makin' ye think that it be your world, Sparra?" challenged Barbossa. "It be mine as much as it be yours."
"And it's the Whelp's as much as it's yours," retorted Jack. "Why hasn't he said anything yet?"
"Because Admiral William Turner is sensible enough to know when not to waste energy," muttered Will. Gimli patted his arm sympathetically whilst trying to wring water out of his beard, without much success. Out of the lot of them, the dwarf seemed to have fared the worst. For one, Gimli was no sailor, and secondly, the dwarf was wearing his characteristic chainmail. Said chainmail was going to rust very soon if something was not done about it.
"Hey, actually," said Jack, ignoring Will, "maybe you can tell us where the Fountain of Youth is, seein' as you're the captain of the Flying Dutchman and lord of the sea and so on and so forth."
"Being the captain of the Dutchman is not the equivalent of being Poseidon," said Hector. "I thought that you of all people would know that, Jack."
He might not have been the equivalent of Poseidon, but Hector was a lord of the sea, nonetheless, and he had lived up to his brother's expectations. He might not have been able to tell them where the Fountain of Youth was, but he was able to get them to the right place from which to begin their search.
The sun was rising over the Caribbean as the Black Opal burst through the smooth silky surface of the ocean, smashing the almost perfect reflection of the sunrise. The splashing and the spluttering of the men onboard shattered the silence of the dawn. A few startled fish swam away, unsure of what was going on. The seagulls were less concerned as they wheeled in the sky, screeching in annoyance as the ship scared away the prey that they had been about to catch.
Jack sucked in a huge gulp of air; he could almost taste freedom and lawlessness. It was good to be home.
"I have to admit," said Achilles, "that I am rather...disappointed. It looks just like any other ocean."
"Disappointed?" said Jack incredulously, whipping around to train his heavily kohl-lined eyes on the burly Greek warrior. "Disappointed? Mate, I'm the truly disappointed one. To think that after all these years, I have yet to teach you a single thing worth knowing. Can't you smell the freedom, the endless opportunities, and...and...Tortuga."
"That place of filth and debauchery," muttered Legolas. "Someone up there must be finding this very funny. To go there once was bad enough. To go there twice! Now, that is unthinkable."
"Cheer up," said Elizabeth. "At least you won't have the sensitive nose to smell it this time, unlike last time. And I do believe that Mr. Gibbs' favourite wench had her eye on you the last time so maybe you can take advantage of that this time."
"And it gets worse," said the elf, rolling his eyes towards the heavens as if begging someone to deliver him from his bleak fate.
"Things have to get worse before they get better," said the female pirate calmly as she pulled out her telescope so that she could better survey their surroundings. "And believe me, Tortuga isn't the worst place that you can be. I, for one, prefer Tortuga to...say, Rome."
"Don't even mention Rome," said Balian, wincing noticeably.
They left Ragetti and Pintel behind to guard the ship as the rest of them went off to explore. Balian had offered to guard the boat, but Jack had refused to leave him behind whilst they went and explored the pleasures of Tortuga. "You ain't lived till you've seen this place, mate," the pirate had said. In the end, the knight had relented. He had been through Hell and back. How bad could a pirate island be? As it turned out, Tortuga was everything he had expected it to be, and much more.
Situated on an atoll, it was supposedly one of the last safe havens for all those who loved freedom—as in lawlessness. It was certainly one of the loudest and most lawless places he had ever seen, but on the other hand, Balian could hardly say that he had seen a happier place before either. Of course, they were all drunk too, so perhaps that drunkenness contributed to their mirth. Men were dragged through the roads behind horses, laughing as they went through puddles of sludge. Women not dissimilar to the camp followers the knight had encountered during his youth roamed the streets, searching for men who were willing, or drunk enough, to pay for a night of...well, whatever it was that drunk men and loose women did.
"Deprived is the man who has ne'er tasted the waters of Tortuga, my friends!" cried Jack.
"I can't say I recommend the water in Tortuga," said Will, "although the Two Hornpipes does serve a fair ale, as far as the price goes."
"There has not ever been a richer brew than that of the Two Hornpipes, except for the stuff we had in Rohan," said Jack. "Oh, and what Pippin brought me the last time he visited Minas Tirith!"
"I would not know, as you did not share," said Balian. "What I am looking forward to is a place to rest my feet and perhaps some news concerning that which we seek."
"This, my friend?" said Jack. "Wot, you think that this is your Holy Grail or something? You are quite wrong in this respect. Only a few people know about the you-know-what and I plan on keepin' it that way, savvy, so while we're here, I think we should just call it...call it..."
"Perhaps you can just call it 'it'?" said Elizabeth. "It's vague enough, even for you, Jack."
"It's a little too vague for me, darling," said Jack, unperturbed by her sarcasm. "I think we should call it...torrent of rum!"
"How are we to distinguish this torrent of rum from, say...other torrents of rum which you are bound to consume while you are here?" said Achilles.
"Because, mate, I'd never call that a torrent. More like...a trickle. There is never enough rum." Jack led them to a ramshackle building. Before Balian even saw it, he could hear it, for the sounds of delighted shrieks cut through the relative quiet of the morning. It seemed that night time fun never ended for these people. No smoke came from the chimney of the inn —if it could be called that. However, it had rooms for let, and by Balian's standards, that was an inn. According to Jack, the main source of revenue for the Two Hornpipes came from its 'excellent heady brews', which would definitely explain the behaviour of its patrons.
"Welcome to Hell," Legolas whispered to the Frenchman.
"Hell was cleaner," Balian whispered back. "And more orderly too."
"True," said the elf. "Alas, it might have been easier if the Fount—torrent of rum had been there."
Balian was about to answer, but when he stepped over the threshold, the only thing he could do was gape. In his day, people also got drunk in the local pubs, but they tended to remain on the floor. The patrons of the Two Hornpipes were everywhere, literally. Some of them hung from the large iron chandelier whilst others sat in the rafters, seeming confused as to how they had gotten there in the first place. Mugs, plates, food, chairs, tables...everything that could be thrown was being thrown, including men...and was that a garter sailing through the air? He didn't have time to analyze it as he ducked to avoid a flying pot plant that would have otherwise split his head in two, or at least given him a rather bad case of concussion.
"This is...colourful," said Achilles at last. The Greek seemed to be at a complete loss of words, and he was notoriously difficult to impress.
"It's...loud," said Paris.
"Well, hello, handsome," said one of the barmaids when she spotted the newcomers. "What can I get you boys today?" She sent a flirtatious smile in their general direction, earning a range of glares from the womenfolk present. Then she seemed to realize that all the men had women standing beside them, except for four of them. All of a sudden, Balian wished that he had thought to bring his young wife. This was going to be difficult.
The sounds of laughter soothed him like a lullaby. Jack basked in the stuffy warmth of the room and tapped his foot in time with the beat of the fight going on in the background, complete with a cheerful musical accompaniment. This was the most welcoming sound a man could hear, as far as he was concerned. Other men might dream of families and children, and maybe the fanfare of silver trumpets, but not Jack Sparrow. He had learned long ago how fickle those things could be, but bar brawls and loud noises were constants in life. Drunken men were bound to do stupid and brilliant things. There had been a time when he, too, had craved fanfares and the admiration of respectable women, but experience had quickly cured him of such naiveté.
The pirate took another sip of his drink and grinned as he watched his friends become more and more uncomfortable with each passing moment. Legolas had been unwilling to stay any longer than he had to and had retired to their rented rooms, not that he would find much reprieve from the noise. However, at least he wouldn't have to see any of this going on. Gimli, for the most part, had been ignored by the drunken patrons, and for once, the dwarf seemed keen on keeping it that way. The others were having no such luck. Achilles had somehow gotten himself involved in the brawl after having consumed just a little bit too much alcohol, and of course the ever chivalrous knight had taken it upon himself to rescue someone who absolutely did not need any rescuing, and therefore had been drawn into the fight. Will was trying to fend off some overly enthusiastic ladies of the night, with a lot of help from his lovely wife, of course. The only reason Jack was not being troubled was because Anna-Maria was glaring at any female —and some males— who dared to come within five feet of him. She might have been a small woman, but she made up for her lack of stature with ferocity. Such a woman was rare.
"Relax, darlin', and have a drink!" he called over the din, even though she was only about a foot away from her. However, the fight was escalating. Even when drunk, Achilles was still the leader of the Myrmidon and Captain of the Elite Gondorian Royal Guard. Throw in the Lord Defender and one of the most lethal partnerships in the history of bar brawls was formed. "You never know when you're gonna get a chance to see the good Captain and the Lord Defender in a bar brawl again."
"How can ye just sit there and drink rum?" demanded Anna-Maria as slipped into the chair opposite Jack and snatched his mug of rum away from him. "In case ye don't remember, we didna leave Gondor jus' so you could come here and get drunk."
"I don't get drunk," retorted Jack. "I get suitably cheered up, savvy? Nautical term, luv. 'Sides, this place? It's bringin' up a few memories from when I was not so much older than Willie Turner. Well, maybe about eight years older, but considerin' we've got eternity ahead of us, darlin', that doesn't seem very long at all."
The three young men laughed as they strolled across the wharf, bottles of drink in hand and with their tongues more than just a little loosened by the alcohol that they had already consumed. It was an uncharacteristically warm night, for it was not quite yet spring. The three of them had just escaped from an overcrowded ballroom, having done more than their share of bowing and dancing. The hard heels of their polised leather boots made unsteady rhythms on the wooden boards, almost as if they were playing a piece of music with no rules apart from their own. "Did you see that one, with the hairy upper lip?" asked the shortest of the young men. He was the oldest, but it was rather hard to tell for they were all very close in age. "She was so smitten with you, James."
"She was pleasant enough to talk to, if one did not focus too much on her face," said the one called James with a laugh. "I pity the poor girl, because that one is fated to be an old maid." Out of the three, he stood out the most, simply because of his much darker colouring. His roguish charm had caught the attention of many a fine lady, although he was hardly expected to make a fine marriage any time soon, unless his luck turned drastically.
"If you pity her so much, then perhaps you should marry her and spare her that grim fate," the first man.
"Oh no," said James. He took another swig from his bottle. "I said I pitied her, but I'm afraid that my pity does not stretch that far. Altruism has never been one of my stronger traits."
"And why should our cousin deign to even think of such a creature when half the women looked as if they wanted to dance with him, and more?" said the youngest man with a laugh. He bore a startling resemblance to the one who had first spoken, and there was no mistaking that they were brothers. "Mark my words, Cutler, James will find himself a beautiful rich wife someday. His lack of inheritance will only delay him for a short while, what with all the charm he has, and then the two of us will be lucky to pick up the ones that he rejects."
"I have no interest in the women of England," said James with a wild wave of his hand. "They are so staid...and...and...boring. I want a woman who can sail the open seas with me."
"There you go again, dreaming of sailing the open seas," said Cutler. "Although, that dream might be easier to achieve than your other one of finding a woman who can sail the open seas with you. I overheard Father talking about how we ought to go with him on his trip to the plantations in the colonies sometime soon."
"The colonies?" said the youngest man. "But there is nothing there apart from savages and wild beasts!"
"And sugar plantations, Jonathan," said Cutler impatiently. "Where do you think all our fine things come from? Silk coats do not grow on trees, dear brother."
"And I heard that there are pirates there," said James. He had a strange gleam in his eye. "Ferocious pirates, fiercer than any pirate that the Old World can produce."
"Pirates," spat Jonathan. "No better than beasts. If it were up to me, I would make sure that they were all fed to the sharks."
"Well, I would not say that, brother," reasoned Cutler. "After all, pirates make for excellent treasure hunters. The pirates may be pests, but they are excellent treasure hunters. Much better than those who abide by the law, wouldn't you agree, Jack?"
A/N: I hope you enjoyed the chapter. This is still very much at the introductory stage.