Warnings: Graphic slash and implied het nookie, Elizabeth/Will, Naval jargon, general abuse of geography and history. Spoilers through AWE, movieverse only, ignoring if not refuting all other sources. Written in mostly American English with some plot-insignificant anachronisms because the canon is the same way.
A/N: Written for the PotC Big Bang fest on LiveJournal.
Disclaimer: © 2011 Mundungus42. All rights reserved. This work may not be archived, reproduced, or distributed in any format without prior written permission from the author. This is an amateur non-profit work, and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by JKR or any other lawful holder. Permission may be obtained by e-mailing the author at mundungus42 at yahoo dot com
The stars overhead were reflected in the perfectly still water, and not even the prow of the boat cutting noiselessly through the darkness disturbed its surface. Elizabeth moistened her finger in her mouth and held it up but found no wind, only desolate calm. She climbed up the ratlines and saw that what she'd taken for a cluster of stars on the horizon were actually individual lights bobbing in the sea, and the final piece of the puzzle clicked into place. She was at world's end once again, facing the specters of the dead. Elizabeth squared her shoulders. She did not fear them. They could no more harm her than return to life, and now that the Flying Dutchman had a captain beholden to no man, they would not linger long between worlds.
The first boats contained anonymous seamen whose faces looked vaguely familiar: some of them her own men from the Black Pearl, others in Naval and Marine regalia, and a few others in respectable civilian dress- East India Company men, no doubt. One of the more shabbily-dressed men recognized her.
"Your majesty," he whispered, his eyes bright.
"Be at peace," she responded, and meant it.
His features relaxed into stillness, and his eyes fluttered shut.
The boats continued to drift past, a single candle lighting the face of each occupant. She saw Sao Fang, who, still believing her to be his goddess, pressed his fingertips together in a gesture of supplication before falling back into torpor. She saw others whose names she had once known, but she couldn't bring herself to call out. There were hundreds, thousands even, all waiting for Will to ferry them onward. She smiled to herself. At least she knew her husband would be kept busy these ten years.
She was pulled from her reverie by a male voice calling her name.
She raised her head, looking to see where the voice was coming from. To her surprise, she saw a figure several hundred feet away standing up in his boat. He had fashioned a crude oar by pulling up the bow seat where the candle had sat, but his candle was nowhere to be seen.
"James?" she called, recognizing his voice.
"It is you!" he said, splashing noisily toward her. "You're not dead, are you?"
"I don't think so," she said."But I'm afraid that, well-"
"Yes, yes, I know I'm dead," he said impatiently. "Jones was fairly clear on that. I didn't fear death. I still don't, but that doesn't mean I'm necessarily enjoying myself. The dead aren't exactly the most stimulating company."
Elizabeth felt her eyes begin to water, for all that his put-upon tone of voice made her laugh.
"Here now, what's this?" he asked, now bobbing alongside her vessel. "Tears?"
"I owe you a heavy debt, James. It's not every day a woman faces a man who literally and figuratively gave his life for her," she said.
Norrington looked flustered but pleased. "You'd have done the same," he said.
Elizabeth sniffled but still managed a rueful look. "I never was as good as you thought I was, James."
"Nonsense," he said, pulling a handkerchief from his waistcoat pocket and offering it to her. "You're a fine woman, Elizabeth, and, if I may be so bold, the best pirate I ever heard of."
"Now I know you're teasing," she said, taking his hanky. Her fingertips brushed his, and she was surprised to find them warm.
His gaze was kind as he looked at her. "Perhaps I am. A little. Only a very little."
"Will you come aboard, James?" she said, tossing him a mooring line that she swore hadn't been there a moment ago. "I'd be glad of the company."
He tied his tiny boat to hers and shinnied up the rope as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Of course, to a man who'd made and lost his fortune at sea, perhaps it was. Elizabeth envied him his grace, but immediately chastised herself for it, since none of his grace or skill had saved him.
He embraced her awkwardly, as if afraid she would break, and she was struck by how alive he felt. He seemed to sense her discomfiture and released her.
"Forgive me," he said. "I fear I may be labouring under a false assumption. I don't really have any idea how long I've been here. What has happened in my absence?"
Elizabeth blinked in surprise. What sort of dead person sought news of the living? A singular one, to be sure. "A great many things," she began, "Davy Jones is dead and the Dutchman has a new captain."
"That is news," said Norrington. "What poor sod has taken his place?"
"My husband," said Elizabeth shortly. "William Turner."
"Oh," said Norrington. "Oh!" he exclaimed when he grasped the implications of her statement. "Elizabeth, forgive me, I had no idea-"
She cut him off with a dismissive gesture. "I know," she said, feeling more than a bit disgruntled. "It's not your fault Jones mortally wounded him. Binding him to the Dutchman was the only way to save him."
"It's a heavy price you've paid," he said.
"I prefer seeing him once a decade to spending a lifetime without him," she said. "And others have paid far more dearly than I," she said, giving him a wry nod.
His smile was sad. "True. On a happier note, Lord Beckett is no more, I trust?" he spoke the title with heavy irony.
"It was bad business" Elizabeth demurred. "But suffice it to say that nobody, least of all the Pirate Brethren, will find the sea to be quite as tractable as she once was. Tia Dalma, Jack's Obeah friend turned out to be the goddess Calypso bound in human form. The Caribbean's been an interesting place since we set her free."
"Strange times to have lived in," he commented. "When legends roam the seas in physical form and become entangled in human affairs."
"Jack says those times are ending," said Elizabeth sadly. "And I have the feeling he's right. I am relieved that I shall have my needle-work to fall back on once the Age of Piracy comes to an end."
This made them both laugh, and when they lapsed into silence, Elizabeth cocked her head to the side to hear a soft sound drifting across the water.
"Do you hear that?"
"That music," she said.
"No," he said, tapping his ear in a self-deprecating manner. "A bit too much gunfire over the years, perhaps? Wait-" he paused, listening. "I can hear it."
At first Elizabeth thought it was a wind chime when she belatedly realized it was an otherworldly voice singing softly in - what language was that? Elizabeth's language skills were limited to the French she'd promptly forgotten after her tutor resigned, but even she understood that the sweet voice that surrounded them meant no harm.
She was surprised to see tears running freely down Norrington's face.
"James," she said, taking his forearm, "what is it?"
Elizabeth hesitated, but couldn't contain her curiosity. "Can you understand the words?"
"Approximately," he said, swallowing hard. "'You who languish will see regret ended, your broken heart refilled and mended.'"
James took a breath and his voice gained strength. "'You who know your errors past shall be free from them at last.'"
He lowered his eyes from the heavens to her face, and Elizabeth's heart ached at the depth of emotion roiling in the green of his eyes. "'Though far from you your love has strayed, your patience soon will be repaid.'"
He held out his hands to Elizabeth, and she paused, uncertain what to do. The strange voice enveloped her, and now that James had translated, she could hear the meaning of the strange words. The voice was pure and gentle, and Elizabeth wished with all her heart that they could come true for James, whom she had used so abominably. James who had given everything up for her. Dear James, whom she could admire but lacked the capacity to love. Unconsciously, she pressed her own hands to her bosom and was surprised when a bright light began to glow between them. Startled, she looked up at James, who was gazing at the light with a look of wonder on his face. She held the light out to him, and he took it gently, pressing it to his own chest.
When it had disappeared, he looked at her with a bright smile, the sort that she saw on Will's face, but never on his habitually stern countenance. She had the unmistakable feeling that she had returned something vital to him and received absolution in return.
"Thank you, Elizabeth," he said. "I do hope we shall meet again."
"Godspeed, James Norrington," she whispered, feeling rather than seeing herself disintegrate.
Elizabeth opened her eyes and sat up, tears fresh on her cheeks. She rubbed her running nose on the sleeve of her bed gown and lit the candle next to her bed. The clock read three in the morning, a mere eight hours since Will had left her. It would be eighty-seven thousand, six-hundred sixty hours until his return. She went to the window of the rented room and gazed out at the sea, visible between the rickety buildings that stood between her and the harbour. A half moon hung low over the horizon. Was Will really out there now, ferrying the souls of the dead to the next world?
Elizabeth turned her back on the window. Whatever her dream had meant, it was clear that she owed James Norrington. The man deserved better at the hands of fate, and what was a Pirate King who failed to repay debts? She knew she wouldn't sleep more that night, so she dressed, gathered her few belongings, and strapped her sword to her side. She had to get to Norrington before the Flying Dutchman.
Sixty miles west northwest in the windward passage, Jack Sparrow had reached the bottom of his first bottle of rum. Frowning, he glanced at the sky and found that it was, indeed, later than he had thought. He secured the helm with a rope to keep the sloop, for only a single bonny mast had the Dirty Bottom, on his chosen heading, which would put him within sight of Maisi Point by daybreak. He padded to the back where he'd stowed the cask, stolen from the last tavern to have him thrown out. He put the bottle at the base of the spigot and grinned as the fiery liquid splashed into the bottle. When it was full, he corked it, stuck it in the frayed waistband of his trousers, and hoisted himself aloft. He climbed to the crosstrees and leaned toward the jib.
The light wind that filled the sails whistled through his beard, the air was sweet and clean, and the stars beckoned him forward towards new lands and, if Barbossa's map was to be believed, eternal life. He pulled out the bottle and took a deep pull that burned all the way down, just like it ought. He smacked his lips in approval. This was the way to travel- all on one's ownsie in as pretty a boat as a man could commandeer -no offence to his beloved Pearl, of course. There were no sheep-baiting sea slugs to mutiny, and best of all, no pursuers of the Naval, mercenary, or supernatural variety. Jack Sparrow was no man to scarper when things got a bit rough, but he was also a man who appreciated leisure, and he'd run any man through who dared interfere with it now.
He snapped open the compass that hung around his neck to ensure that the scrap of map he'd stolen from Barbossa was still carefully tucked inside the lid, the fourteenth or fifteenth time he'd done so since setting sail from Tortuga. According to his compass, Barbossa and his Pearl were taking a more direct route past Inagua, far north of his present location. By the time they discovered that a crucial part of their chart was missing, Jack would be well-nigh impossible to find. Besides, no matter where he went, he would always have the advantage of knowing where the Pearl was relative to his person, and she had no way to know where he was. That was the finest thing about having a satisfactory end to his most recent adventures- a return to the status quo.
He raised his bottle in salute to the Pearl and freedom from wenches and eunuchs, and drank several painfully large gulps, the last of which went slightly wrong and sent him into a fit of coughing. When his lungs had finally finished telling him off, he was gasping for breath, but he soon realized that something in the wind had changed. He gently blotted his teary eyes so as not to smudge his kohl, and glanced at the sails beneath him. Odd, all of them were as full as they had been a moment ago. So what had changed?
He turned his head sideways, and then he heard it. There was a voice on the wind. A weird-sounding woman's voice. Jack shook his head. Womens' voices at sea were always bad luck. Unless, of course, they were coming from a real, live woman, in which case they were only occasionally bad luck. But there was nothing for it- if someone somewhere needed to tell him something, then he supposed he ought to listen.
At least it was a pretty voice, clear as the Red Sea on a calm day, and it was singing in some weird tongue that he'd heard at some point but couldn't identify- it wasn't anything spoken in tropical climes. The more Jack listened to it, the more it reminded him of ice and frost, things he didn't like to think about. However, voices on the wind were not to be ignored, even if he couldn't understand a word it was singing. And if it was singing to him in a strange tongue, perhaps it meant that the singer didn't know him yet, which meant that she would be far more susceptible to his charms. Well, there was nothing for it. He sighed, and cocked his head into the wind.
Clearly, this is what the voice had been waiting for, because the balmy air was suddenly chilled, and a lonely-sounding bird's call rang through the air. The sails began to luff and flutter, and suddenly, Jack knew what was going to happen. Swearing eloquently, he slid down the mast and was mere steps from the precious barrel when the world turned upside down, and he was plunged into frigid water.
He screamed as what felt like needles of ice pierced his skin. This was why he never willingly left the tropics- water elsewhere was cold. He forced his body to go slack, knowing that he would drift up to the surface, provided there were no sudden encounters with anything solid, and sure enough, seconds later, he was sputtering on the glassy surface of the sea, where the horizon was growing rosy.
Where in the name of the Nereids' knickers was his poor Dirty Bottom? And where was he? His breath was hanging in the air, and his body had commenced shivering far more than just its timbers, and he estimated he had less than ten minutes before succumbing to the cold. He turned to the west to see if there were anything in sight and nearly pissed himself in relief to see a whole flotilla of small boats, one of which was larger than the others, a swift-looking fore-and-aft rigged boat that was heading toward him.
Jack took a deep breath, wincing as his lungs ached from being forced to expand, and called, "Ahoy the boat!" through chattering teeth.
Jack had never been gladder to hear that voice. "Norrington!"
"What on earth are you doing?"
"Presently? Catching my death, so if it's all the same to you, I'd be grateful for a hand up before we commence reminiscing."
"If you're just now catching it, you're abysmally behind schedule," said Norrington, a humorless smirk grimly bisecting his face. Still, he threw Jack a line and helped pull him aboard, which was manners, at least. He even had some sort of rough blanket on hand, which Jack wrapped around himself gratefully.
Norrington glanced over his shoulder quickly and turned back to Jack. "I never thought I'd say it, Sparrow, but I'm actually sorry you're dead."
"What do you mean, dead?" asked Jack, who had curled into a ball on the deck to conserve heat. "I'm as alive as you- oh, hang on a tick, you are dead," he said. "I heard the stories. The man who ran Davy Jones through on his way out. Fine story, of which you're the hero, make no mistake. Though not so clever, Jones being immortal and all."
"I had noticed." Norrington's voice was as icy as the water Jack had recently occupied.
"So we're between, then," said Jack, comprehension dawning. "What'd you do to merit such a tidy little conveyance instead of one of those coffin boats? And why aren't you comatose and blathering on about how you died like the others? And more importantly, what in the name of buggery did you do to get one of the great ones involved? I didn't quite get her dialect. Northern lady, is she?"
Norrington started, and the surprised expression that flickered across his face was soon replaced with a thunderstruck expression. "Great ones? I-" he paused, his face becoming impassive. "I have nothing to say to you on the subject," he finished.
Jack continued as if he hadn't spoken. "Perhaps I was the only one in the neighborhood. And if I may say, some of the other goddesses are going to have something to say about yours pressing me into service. Typical of a Navy man's goddess, innit?"
"I'm to believe that a man who can't even satisfy the working women of Tortuga has goddesses to speak for him?" sneered Norrington.
"Listen, Norrington," said Jack, his voice going dangerously smooth, "Unless you want to wait here with your thumb up your arse for the Dutchman, I'd advise speaking to old Jack here with a bit of respect. You may have a swift little barky, but I've got the way out here," he said tapping his forehead. He pulled his blanket more tightly around himself and padded over to the weather-rail. The congregation of boats now appeared as specks on the horizon. At least Norrington was on an eastward tack, which was exactly the right way to go.
Norrington joined him, leaning unconsciously into the curve of wood. "Sparrow, do you really know a way back?"
"That I do," said Sparrow. "The question is, my dear Commodore-or-Admiral, what will I get out of it if I bring you with me?"
"I won't throw you off my boat into the waters of the dead," said Norrington, his eyes stern.
"Well, when you put it that way," said Jack, acquiescing with a shrug. "What's her name?"
"The Swan," said Norrington, allowing himself another one of those grim non-smiles that Jack fancied had struck fear into the hearts of the poor sods unlucky enough to serve under him, and Jack cleared his throat.
"Right. It works like this: we sail away from the boats for the rest of today, preferably exceeding the speed of a Flying Dutchman as sailed by a eunuch who knows bugger all about tactics, until the sun sets. Just before the last bit of sun disappears over the horizon, we flip the boat upside down and pop back into the world of the living. Savvy?"
"You want to capsize the boat?"
"Got it in one," said Jack. "You catch on quick for a Naval officer."
"Have you always been mad, or has the chill finally killed whatever was left of your mind?"
"I didn't make the rules, mate," said Jack. "I just remember 'em. Now, you can either wait around for the whelp to ferry you into oblivion, or you can help me. S'your choice."
Norrington glanced over his shoulder and froze. Jack followed his gaze toward an ominous-looking blotch on the horizon. Jack grinned.
"It seems your hypothetical quandary has taken on a new level of actual importance," he said, trying not to gloat and failing.
"So it has." Norrington's voice was expressionless.
"Don't worry your pretty periwig about it," said Jack. "We've got a full day of sailing ahead of us before you need to decide whether to capsize the boat when I tell you."
"True," said Norrington. "Sparrow, be so good as to man the halyards while I go aloft. We need every square inch of canvas available."
"Aye, Commodore," said Jack, not even minding particularly that Norrington was giving orders. It was his boat after all. At least he wasn't acting as if he were speaking to some lubberly slack-arse.
Jack couldn't help but admire Norrington's agility as he swung himself into the shrouds and climbed
up the ratlines nearly as quickly as he himself might have done. Perhaps the stuffy old Commodore had learned a useful thing or two in the Navy apart from how to wear fancy coats and sneer. As Norrington loosed the canvas, Jack had his nose to the wind, smelling it, trying to anticipate how it would change throughout the day. The Dutchman was barely a dot on the horizon, but she was fast, probably more so since the venerable crust of barnacles dirtying her hull had disappeared with the ascendance of young master Turner. Jack envied the supernatural ship her independence from dry dock.
Jack heard the luff of canvas above and began to heave at the halyards. He glanced up and was surprised to see that Norrington had loosed a square topsail above the top of the jib. As it filled with wind, the boat gave a great lurch forward, and Jack secured the line. She was running at least another two knots faster now, or he was a guppy-pated scrub.
"Not a particularly Naval rig, that," commented Jack, grinning at Norrington as he slid down the mast.
"No, but the purpose of Naval vessels is rarely to capsize. The spars can take it, for some hours, at least."
"Any more surprises up there? Royals, perhaps?"
"Sadly, no. No sweeps below, either."
"Not that we have enough hands to man 'em," observed Jack.
"Presumably the dense concentration of souls to the west will keep the Dutchman busy until we're over the horizon," said Norrington. "I propose that we wear as soon as we're out of sight in hopes that Turner will pursue us according to our prior heading."
"Wear?" asked Jack, his eyebrows drawing together. "That's not much of a change in heading. Why not tack?"
"They'll expect us to tack and run off close-hauled. It is my hope that they will chase us in the wrong direction. Besides, we have no provisions aboard, so we should avoid pointless thirsty-work like excessive manoeuvres."
Jack didn't particularly like the order. While Turner was green as grass, there were centuries worth of experience aboard the Dutchman, so Norrington could very well be right. "I didn't think the dead got thirsty," he commented, more to nettle Norrington than anything.
"We don't," he said superciliously. "But you do, and as you're the only one who knows the way home, I have a vested interest in keeping you alive."
By way of apology, Jack let Norrington take the helm while Jack manned the braces and sheets. He supposed it didn't really matter what direction they were going, as long as it was awayish from the Dutchman, which had, he noted with satisfaction, now sunk below the horizon.
At Norrington's command, Jack hauled the mainsail up as they turned. At least Norrington's goddess had given him a fast little Swan that could be reasonably well-manned by two. Was she of Calypso's sisters, maybe?
As he lowered the sail and returned the lines to their pins, Jack couldn't help wondering if the Dutchman had spotted them, and if so, what was made of them. Will himself had sailed the ocean between worlds when he was alive, so perhaps he would assume they were on their own errand, but he doubted it. Unlike their previous voyage, Jack had aboard a man who was actually and truly deceased, having shuffled off his mortal coil most impressively, so the Dutchman would be drawn to them like bees to honey.
He couldn't help but smile at the spread of fine canvas they were flying. Norrington was a ballsy bastard, make no mistake. The square sail might have carried off the topmast, but even though it was groaning fit to raise the dead, she seemed solid.
"Satisfied, Mr. Sparrow?" asked Norrington, who had left the helm to help secure the lines.
"As much as one can be under the circumstances," said Jack, lashing his last line to the pin. "Now suppose you tell me how you managed to get a proper boat in this place. Unless you expect me to believe the goddess gave it to you."
"I don't particularly care what you believe, Sparrow."
"Fine, fine," said Jack. "Then I don't suppose you'll want to tell me what goddess decided to throw a spanner in my perfectly illegitimate treasure hunt to pluck your stuffed-shirted self from the afterlife?"
"No, I don't."
"Don't want to kiss and tell, eh? Or something-else and tell?"
Norrington's lip curled. "You're disgusting, Sparrow."
"Don't tell me you managed to make nice with an immortal without making the best of the situation!" exclaimed Jack. "Eunuchs! Why am I always surrounded by eunuchs?"
"One wonders at your keen interest in my and Mr. Turner's masculinity," commented Norrington sourly. "Hiding something, are we?"
Jack looked disbelievingly at him for a moment. "If I wasn't perfectly assured that my hearing was adequate, which is to say keener than most, I'd swear the Commodore sassed me. As it is, it's probably a trick of this gods-curst cold wind."
"It's early yet, Sparrow, much as I would will it otherwise. Why don't you warm yourself in the day-cabin?"
"Damned good of you, James. I may call you James?"
"Good. James is no name for a man of the sea. Jim lad, now that's a proper seaman's name."
Norrington had disappeared behind the boom. "Go away, Sparrow."
"Don't worry about me," said Jack, making a mincing bow. "I'll just be in the cabin, then. Shout if you need us."
There was no reply, to Jack's delight, and the little room with its broad windows was indeed much warmer than the deck. Perhaps it was the sliver of rising sun, or perhaps it was the rum he'd consumed, but Jack soon fell into a deep slumber.
Some hours later, Jack snorted himself awake and cursed when he saw that the sun was low in the sky. He yanked his tricorn firmly over his head and ran up on deck. He found Norrington standing at the taffrail, staring behind them where the Flying Dutchman had made enormous gains on them. They were so close Jack could make out the flash of light as the setting sun reflected off young Turner's spyglass.
"Galatea's tits! They're practically on top of us!"
"I had noticed."
"Why didn't you shout for me?"
"What would have been gained by it, apart from spoiling my final hours with your absurd tomfoolery?"
"I like to think you'd have been comforted by my ready wit," Jack responded, pretending to look hurt, which succeeded in making Norrington snort.
"There's nothing for it," said Norrington at last. "We can't outrun the Dutchman."
"We don't have to, Jim lad," said Jack. "The sun's nearly down. We just need to move everything over to one side of the boat post-haste. Give over!" he said at Norrington's skeptical look. "What other ideas you got?"
"None," admitted Norrington, pulling off his heavily braided Admiral's jacket and rolling up his sleeves. "Orders, sir."
Jack allowed himself a moment of slack-jawed gob-smackedness at Norrington's easy relinquishment of command, but quickly recovered.
"Mister Norrington, I notice the cables are all to cock. Was that your doing?"
"I adjusted the rig to allow the ship to be tacked quickly, and then capsized. I hope the change is to your satisfaction."
Jack raised an eyebrow. It wasn't pretty, but Norrington had proved that he knew what he was doing. It just might work. "Have we any guns on this boat?"
"None," came the brisk response. "Though there's a great deal of spare canvas."
"Then move all canvas belowdecks larboard," said Jack.
"Already done. It was that way when I took command of this vessel."
Jack felt his irritation rise. "Didn't you find that the least bit curious? That everything of any substantial weight was stored to one side?"
"Then why did you act as if I was out of my bloody skull to suggest tipping her over?"
Odd- Norrington's smirk didn't look nearly as intimidating when he was actually amused. "Force of habit, I suppose."
"Are you sure she hasn't got any guns?"
"Not even a chaser or two?"
"Not even a pistol," said Norrington regretfully.
"If we get out of this alive, remind me to burn something smelly to your patron deity who forgot to give us guns."
"I don't think he'd find that particularly objectionable. He is of the people who invented lutefisk, you know."
"Well," began Jack, who then cut off with a choked sound. "What? HE?"
Norrington was saved having to reply by a loud report from the Dutchman. A plume of water shot up about twenty feet off the starboard bow.
"Now, that wasn't friendly," murmured Jack, gazing through his spyglass. Sure enough, the lad was standing on deck next to his progenitor, who brandished a smoldering slow-match near the touch hole of a fine brass bow chaser, which was being sponged out by an excited but inefficient gun crew member. Will held up his hand to stay a shot from a second chaser to see what Jack and Norrington would do.
Jack glanced at the horizon, where the bottom edge of the sun nearly touched the surface of the water.
"We have ten minutes. Fifteen at most. What would you say to a bit of fun, Jim lad?"
"I'd say let Turner shoot," said Norrington. "And prepare to tack."
"Aye, sir," said Jack approvingly. Despite the Dutchman's superior speed and firepower, he and Norrington had the weather-gauge, and the Dutchman would have to make two manoeuvres to their one in order to get a decent broadside. Clearly, Norrington had been correct in assuming the Dutchman would tack to pursue them. It was only their absurd amount of canvas and probably a few canny sailors aboard that had allowed them to catch up, despite their mistake. Jack had to smile. The lad might have had pirating in his blood, but without his lady-love at hand, Turner hadn't enough cunning to fill the bowl of a pipe.
Jack seized the tackle at the end of the boom while Norrington sprinted up to the helm. "Ready, Sparrow?"
"Aye! Ready, Jim lad?"
"Stop calling me that."
"How about Jamey, then? Jamey's a nice name."
A whistle like an angry tea kettle shot past Jack's head, followed a moment later by a report like a rifle crack. The Dutchman clearly didn't like the look of what they were doing and had fired the second chaser at them. A small hole in the sail showed that the Dutchman's crew were aiming too high.
Norrington cranked the wheel hard to starboard and bellowed, "MAINSAIL HAUL!"
There was another crack from the Dutchman's bow chasers that took a chunk out of the starboard weather-rail. One pound shot wouldn't dismast them, but it could throw up some right nasty splinters. Jack ignored it and hauled on the braces, and the boom flew across the deck, cables screeching. The jib and topsail were luffing something fierce, and the topsail's spar was groaning terribly. The boat began to turn, and one of the Dutchman's starboard gun crews let off a premature shot that hit the water a good cable's length ahead of them. Jack didn't envy Turner's gun crews for squandering their shots, since it would be long minutes before the gun could be fired again.
As the ship passed through the eye of the wind, Norrington ran past him to the fore to haul back the jib, which kept the Swan turning. No sooner had he completed this task than he ran back to the helm to put the rudder amidships.
"Let go and haul!" he shouted, and Jack braced the yards to their new tack. The luffing sails filled with wind, and as the boat surged forward on its new heading, Jack couldn't help whooping his approval. A great hulk like the Dutchman could take thirty minutes to tack, but he and Norrington had managed to tack their vessel in less than five.
There was a deafening roar as the Dutchman loosed a broadside, but the Swan was so low in the water that the upper deck eight-pounders overshot, and only two of the lower deck guns managed to muss some of the standing rigging. Unfortunately, one lucky eight-pound ball completely severed the square topsail's halyards, and the sail collapsed. The timbers groaned as the forward momentum provided by the extra sail evaporated, and the boat eased back two precious knots of speed.
Jack swore. That lucky shot made them vulnerable to a second broadside, but even more importantly, the sail was needful for upending the boat. Norrington was immediately at his side, securing the stays. His face was pink and shining with exertion. "How much time?"
Only the slightest bit of sun was visible on the horizon, and it was falling fast. "Get your Naval breeches aloft!" Jack yelled. "Do what you can to secure the topsail. I'll spin her hard starboard."
Norrington swung over the weather-rail, and tore up the shrouds as if the very devil were at his heels, which in this case, he was.
Once he reached the crosstrees, Norrington leaped to the topsail yard and began to splice the cable so quickly that his fingers were a blur. Before Jack knew it, the sail had been yanked back into place, and the boat groaned forward once more, tipping ominously larboard. It was time.
Jack caught Norrington's eye, but before they could act, there was a deafening report as a hellishly ambitious gun crew on the Dutchman succeeded in firing on their boat. Fortunately, the shot had blasted through the forecastle, and though the jib quivered and collapsed, the canvas protected Jack from the flying splinters. The smell of gunpowder was heavy in the air, and Jack could hardly see the edge of the sun through all the smoke.
"All right, Sparrow?" came the call from above.
"Aye, prepare to flip her on my count," shouted Jack. "One!"
Two more of the Dutchman's guns fired in rapid succession. One ball smashed completely through the weather rail but left the deck untouched, and the other eight-pound iron ball smashed into the mast. Fortunately, there it lodged and there it stayed.
"Two-three!" yelled Jack, taking advantage of the silence.
Jack yanked on the cable, and the block groaned as the heavy rope ground through its wheels. The boom whipped to larboard, and though Jack couldn't see it, Norrington must have thrown all his weight hard to the side, because the Swan began to tip almost immediately.
More guns fired, and the air was filled with smoke and flying bits of wood. Jack began to laugh as he skipped along the deck of the foundering boat. Amidst the roar of cannon fire there was a loud crack, and Jack leapt nimbly to the side just in time to avoid being crushed by the top of the mast and sail crashing to the deck. Jack's initial fear was that the loss of mast was sufficient to keep them from capsizing, but the sound of ocean rushing over the side of the boat calmed his fears.
Belatedly, he realized that Norrington had been standing in the crosstrees when the ball had hit. "Norrington?" he shouted, but his voice was lost in the gunfire. The deck had pitched nearly forty-five degrees, and Jack seized a clew that was hanging slack from the mainmast and wrapped his arm around it. He had been through this already more than any man ought. He relaxed into the rush of water, and as the surface closed over his head, there was a flash of green light. Jack smiled and closed his eyes.
Unfortunately, Jack's peace was short-lived. There was a mighty crack, and something enormous and heavy crashed into his skull. His eyes flew open only to be nearly blinded by morning sun. He clutched his skull and swore loudly and creatively. As the shaking in his vision receded, he realized that he was lying on the deck surrounded by piles of fallen rigging.
At that moment, Jack resolved never to get so arse-faced on rum that he could sleep through a storm when a sharp shove to his shoulder jarred him into consciousness.
"Sparrow, get up. We're not out of this yet."
Norrington. Jack swore again. "Thought you were a dream," he managed to grind out.
"Touching as it is to know that you dream of me, it's likely that the Dutchman will be with us presently. While they won't have much in the way of dry powder, they are more than equipped to board us, so unless you brought me to this world only to be unceremoniously yanked back out of it, you'll get into the dinghy now."
Jack wasn't surprised that the hands belatedly protecting his head came away bloody. "Dunno how much good I'll be to you, mate," said Jack, lurching with less than usual grace to the weather-rail and vomiting over the side.
Norrington seized his shoulder and looked into his eyes. Huh. Norrington's eyes were green. And getting fuzzy. Whatever he saw clearly displeased him.
"Get in the dinghy," he said, practically throwing him over the edge. "Can you handle this line?"
"I'd rather pull the other one," replied Jack, grinning at his own wit. Was it his imagination, or did that come out right? Norrington gave him another penetrating glance, which prompted Jack to wink. Though it was damned hard to do when the light was so bright it made him squint.
The sky was so bright. And loud. Sounded like an enormous wave crashing. And yelling. But his hands moved of their own accord, the rope moved with them. He managed to make the bunny go out of the hole, around the tree, and back down the hole before his legs collapsed, dumping him into the bottom of the row boat. And then the sun was gone, hidden by a spread of white canvas overhead. The ropes were supposed to be singing, not ringing in such a godawful way. He yelled back at them but had to stop because it made his head throb. Hardly manners to make his head hurt so when he and the ropes were such old friends. Jack was determined to give the rigging a piece of his mind when the world went unexpectedly black.