On Stranger Sands

Disclaimer: The characters are not mine. They belong to Disney.

Lieutenant Commander Theodore Groves's eyelids moved as he slowly rose to consciousness. The memory of recent events flooded his mind; the sword fight with Blackbeard's ruthless pirates at the Fountain of Youth and how his best friend, Andrew, had fallen during that fight. Then the Spanish had arrived and he had been shot in the stomach. The lead shot slamming into his body had been like getting hit with a cannonball; and though it had been tiny it had packed an incredible amount of force and had knocked him right off of his feet. And while he didn't feel any pain at the moment, he was loath to move as surely the fierce pain would return in full force if he did. He could sense he was lying on his left side on a hard surface, probably one of the rocks that surrounded the Fountain. His left arm was extended and stretched out above his head, his fingers trailing in …sand? He wiggled his fingers through the dry gritty substance and yes, it was sand.

Wait…shouldn't it be water?

Groves opened his brown eyes and stared about in confusion. The area had certain similarities to the Fountain, as it had the old broken slabs of rock with the ancient markings on them, but the flowing water had been replaced by sand. The towering trees were gone as was the archway that had held the Fountain itself. The sky above was a flat gray-white, a color he hadn't seen since living in England as a young boy with his parents. It was a winter sky, something that never seemed to happen in the tropical Caribbean where he was stationed. Yet here it was.

And it was quiet, eerily quiet. Not even the faintest echo from the recently clashing swords disturbed the still air. Nor were there any bird calls or the gentle ripple of moving waters that had filled the area before. The utter silence was deafening.

That was the most disturbing thing, the silence. Not even the wind whistled. In fact, as far as he could tell, there was no wind at all. The unforgiving sun beat down on him from the colorless sky and he began to overheat. Glancing down at his torso, he saw he was wrapped up in the flag. Reaching for it with his free hand, he tried to pull the fabric free without moving too much, but to his dismay he was apparently laying atop both ends of the large piece of fabric. His struggles grew more violent until he tumbled off the rock onto the hot sand, finally pulling one end of the English flag free.

Groves's eyes opened wide in shock as he suddenly realized not one bit of pain had shot through him from falling off the rock. He quickly scrambled to his feet and pressed a hand against his stomach cautiously. Nothing, not even the faintest uncomfortable tingle of pain was felt. Had the water from the Fountain healed him? Was that even possible? He unbuttoned his waistcoat and tugged up his shirt, finding smooth unblemished skin. "My God, the water must have healed me! It's a miracle!"

Glancing about, he saw his sword lying in the sand nearby and picked it up, sliding it back into its scabbard. Then a bit of dark blue caught his eye and he hurried over to it. To his relief, it was Andrew. His best friend was lying halfway on top of a rock; face down, with his legs stretched out on the sand. He could see his body raising and falling with gentle breaths, so it was clear he was still alive. A wicked looking tear with red traces of blood ruined the back of his officer's jacket, but the flesh underneath looked healed. Reaching out, Theo shook his shoulder to wake him up.

"What?" Andrew came awake with a sudden start, rolling over so he fell off of the rock and onto the sand. Then his eyes flickered this way and that, seeing the strange landscape and an uneasy expression formed on his face. Gillette quickly got to his feet. "Where are we?"

"The Fountain, I think…" Theo replied uncertainly as an uncomfortable feeling grew in his stomach. Truthfully, he had no idea where they were, as now that he was on his feet he could see unbroken stretches of sand in all directions. It was like a vast desert had swallowed the tropical isle they had been exploring, replacing most of the landmarks with new ones in the blink of an eye. Such occurrences were out of his experience and he didn't look forward to tackling it.

Andrew picked up a handful of sand and let it trickle through his fingers. "It's not even damp. Where did the water go?"

Theo shrugged. "Who can say? The Fountain is not an ordinary place as we both know. How can a pool of water cling to the ceiling of a cave and act as a doorway to the Fountain? None of it is very logical at all. All that I know for certain is that I was shot by the Spanish, knocked out by the pain and when I woke up my wound was gone…"

Andrew's eyes grew wide as he suddenly recalled his own wound and tried to twist an arm around to feel at his back. "Blackbeard stabbed me in the back!"

"From what I saw, it's healed now although the tear is still in your jacket."

Gillette slowly climbed to his feet and dusted the sand off of his uniform. Looking about, he found his dropped sword and reclaimed it, sliding it into its scabbard. After he straightened his wig, he turned to his best friend. "Well, what do we do now? The fight is clearly over and everyone seems to have left…"

Groves thought for a moment before answering. "We don't know that everyone left. There still may be others lying nearby, unconscious, that we cannot see due to rocks blocking our view. We should slowly circle the area and check."

The other man nodded in agreement and they slowly started walking, picking a direction at random. The footing was treacherous, as many of the flat rocks were partly covered by sand drifts and if one wasn't careful, the rocks tripped them. After almost falling flat on their faces twice, they both learned to test their footing.

"I think I preferred splashing through the water better, even if it meant sopping hose and shoes…" Andrew grumbled as he kicked at another hidden rock with the toe of his shoe. He stepped up onto its almost level surface and raised a hand to his eyes to block the sun. All he could see was sand and more sand stretching to the horizon. "Where did all of this sand come from anyway? And where's the cave? It looks like a desert!"

"I have no idea where the sand came from I'm afraid." Theo guessed that by now they had searched about half of the rocky area where the Fountain of Youth had once been and had found no one else. The landmarks they had seen earlier, like the trees, were gone and all he saw extending in all directions was the never ending sand. The sight was very unsettling to say the least. Worst he knew soon Andrew would be looking towards him to make command decisions and he had no idea what to do. Which direction should they go? And were they even in the same spot? How could he determine that? But water would be the first priority and he had no real knowledge of surviving in a desert, for why would a sailor need that information?

"I see a spot of color up ahead!" Andrew exclaimed loudly as he pointed to a bit of bright red that stuck out amid all of the sand.

Theo watched as Andrew hurried forward, boldly leaping over a large rock to reach the bit of brilliant color. He increased his own pace but was mindful of the hidden rocks, as the last thing he needed was a sprained ankle.

Pausing, Andrew glanced downward and then knelt. "It's the Captain!"

Relief flooded his body at the words as a gentle sigh escaped his lips. He would let Barbossa make the decisions, even if he didn't always agree with them. Hopefully the older man knew something about surviving in this type of environment, as he himself was truly at a loss. He could command, yes, but out at sea or leading a party on land, not in this hostile wasteland.

"How is he?" Theo asked as he reached Andrew and the captain, who was stretched out flat on his back with closed eyes. It had been the bright red cuff on the captain's uniform jacket that had drawn Andrew's eyes. He knelt on the hot sand, the intense heat soaking into his lower legs through the thin material of his white stockings. It felt like something straight out of a brick oven, but he did his best to ignore the unpleasant sensation.

"It looks like Blackbeard's pirates hit him with poisoned darts." Andrew frowned with disgust as he carefully pried two darts from Barbossa's scraggly beard and neck. "That's not an honorable fight at all!"

"They're pirates." Theo replied matter-of-factly as he felt for a pulse at the captain's neck. "What do you expect? Well, at least he's alive."

"I thought you admired pirates?"

"Well, I do, sort of. Jack Sparrow is very interesting you must admit. And I still haven't figured out how he does the things that he does…did you know he was actually swinging from a palm tree earlier at the Spanish camp?"

Andrew grimaced sourly at the mention of Sparrow. "He's the one that stole the Dauntless from me, he and Turner, but it was mostly him. How did these pirates get in charge anyway?"

It was no secret to either man that Barbossa was a former pirate lord and Theo suspected that his friend was a little bit scared of their current captain. Ever since the older gruff man was put in charge of their present mission, his best friend's lips had grown as tight as a clam and hardly ever said anything while Barbossa was around. Their captain was somewhat unpredictable and had a bloody past, so Theo couldn't blame his friend for playing it safe. "The King wants the Fountain and only the pirates knew the way there."

"I don't see what's so important about the bloody Fountain anyway…" Andrew stared at the small darts in his hand, clearly unhappy about the entire situation.

"It healed us, didn't it?" Theo shook Barbossa's shoulder, trying to wake the older man up. "Such water would be worth a fortune."

"Are you sure that's what happened?" Andrew asked as he rose to his feet and stared off into the distance. "There's something odd about this place…I can't put a finger on it, but something's not right."

Barbossa mumbled something unintelligible as he rose to consciousness, his dry lips moving slightly as his eyelids fluttered.

"You'll feel better once the captain is awake." Theo shook Barbossa's shoulder again, more firmly this time. The words he had to admit were more for himself than to comfort Andrew as the whole thing was just too disturbing. "Captain, Sir, please wake up."

Without warning, Barbossa bolted upright into a sitting position and his blue eyes snapped open. He automatically glanced at Theo and then turned his head to scan the area around them, his eyes narrowing to thin slits. His face was unreadable except for the fact that his lips tightened into a straight line.

"We've somehow ended up in this sandy area, Sir." Theo offered as he rose to his feet and stood at attention, hating the fact that he didn't have a proper report. "The enemy knocked you out with some sort of darts and as far as we know, there's no one else around…"

Barbossa rolled over onto his good knee, keeping his other leg straight and then managed to get a standing position. He then turned around in a slow circle, taking in the unending stretches of hot sand. "The Locker…"

Theo's heart jumped at the unexpected words and he felt a shiver travel down his spine. "Sir?"

"Ye heard me, Lieutenant Commander. I said "the Locker" and ye know very well what that is."

"But that would mean…" Theo's voice failed as the thought that he was dead was taking hold. He felt just as awful as Andrew looked now, pale as a ghost despite the time spent under a tropical sun. His knees felt unusually weak, as if they might fail him at any moment and despite the fact that he was supposed to be dead, his heart was beating a crazy rhythm inside his rib cage.

"Aye, yer dead." Barbossa poked Theo in the chest with a long black fingernail. "That's what happens when ye go around waving the English flag in front of a bunch of Spaniards. Tell me, Lieutenant Commander, was it worth dying for?"

"I…" Theo's voice faltered, as he truly had no idea what to think or say. The shock of it was just too great. It was a noble death, yes, but it still left him dead and stuck here in this endless desert. Needless to say, it was not the afterlife he had been expecting.

"Never ye mind about an answer. It be a temporary state is all." Barbossa started striding forward, his sharp eyes scanning the sand about them.

"Temporary?" Andrew asked as he hurried to follow the captain. "Isn't death permanent?"

"Not if ye know the secret of Sao Feng's Map, which fortune has told me previously. Gibbs was a fool fer burning that map, as it was truly one-of-a-kind and lead to places not of this world. This be one of them and I traveled here before when we brought Jack Sparrow back from the dead."

"I thought that was a rumor!" Andrew exclaimed as some of the color was starting to come back to his face.

"Nay, it be true enough. He was swallowed by the kraken and we brought him back. All we need is to find the water…" Barbossa climbed up onto a flat-topped rock to get a slightly better vantage point. Unfortunately, the rock wasn't very tall and the view didn't change at all. "I surmise the Fountain area must be connected to the Locker somehow or else we'd not be here. Fortune is still favoring us, although ye might not think so."

Theo pulled his telescope out of his pocket and handed it to the captain. "So which way is the water? It all looks the same…"

"Aye, that's the point of it." Barbossa explained as he raised the golden telescope to one eye and peered through it. "The Locker is supposed to drive ye mad and what better way than to plop a seaman down in the midst of an endless desert? Ye must keep yer mind about yerself less ye end up as mad as Jack."

"He doesn't seem insane to me." Theo stated as he once again boldly contradicted the captain. "He's very clever and brilliant and comes up with the most unique ideas."

"Aye, that he does." Barbossa agreed as he handed the telescope back to his first officer and stepped down from the rock. "But that doesn't change the fact that he's as mad as can be. He talks to himself and even once confided that he sees multiple copies of himself, each doing its own thing supposedly. Madness and brilliance often go hand in hand."

The hot air grew still as Barbossa silently rubbed at his scraggly beard, deep in thought. His two officers stood by, waiting for the captain to come to a decision.

Finally Barbossa made one as a twinkle appeared in his blue eyes."The Locker wants us to go tramping about in all of this sand, heading in the wrong direction and earning naught but sand in our boots. So we'll bypass the game and time-wasting by appealing to a higher power. I still have me poisoned blade in hand and plan on running Blackbeard through his black heart. Then we will claim his ship to replace our sunken one, as he won't be needing it anymore."

The two lieutenants exchanged confused glances, as they had no idea what "higher power" he was referring to.

"Fetch me that bit o shell." Barbossa ordered as he pointed to a piece of clam shell poking out of the nearby sand as he seated himself on the rock.

Gillette quickly did as the captain bid and brought the half shell over. The Second Lieutenant stared down at the shell in puzzlement, frowning a bit. "This is going to get us out of the Locker?"

"Aye, if we're lucky. Clean it off a bit if ye can." Barbossa reached for his wooden peg and twisted it. A click sounded and it came free. "Have ye ever heard of Calypso? She's the heathen goddess that rules over the sea and is as temperamental as the changing waters. In the past she has honored my requests and I plan to beseech her now. If fortune holds, she will aid us in our escape or at least point us in the proper direction. And that be truth all we need, a compass bearing."

Andrew busied himself wiping the sand off of the clam shell with the edge of his officer's jacket, his head bowed to his work.

"Is she real?" Theo inquired, truly interested.

"Aye, that she is. She's as real as that dead mermaid ye saw on the beach and as real as the Fountain. Perhaps ye saw the Maelstrom? That was her work." Barbossa removed the cap from the secret container inside of his wooden peg and then motioned to Gillette. "Hold it steady now so as to not spill a single drop."

Carefully Barbossa poured some of the remaining rum from his peg into the now clean clam shell. The rich brown liquid pooled on the bottom of the shell until it was about an inch in depth. "Place it here on the rock, carefully."

Gillette did so.

After Barbossa reattached his wooden peg, he got down onto his one good knee facing the rock where his offering of rum sat and motioned for his officers to do the same. The Pirate Lord turned privateer raised his arms into the air and his voice rose. "Oh Calypso, we your humble servants offer you this fine aged rum, all the liquid that we possess in this arid wasteland. Help us smite the one that so cruelly kills your sea daughters for their tears, the same one that has taken my leg. All we ask is a compass bearing to the water."

Theo knelt in the hot sand to the right side of the captain, his eyes locked on the clam shell of rum, waiting for something to happen. Expectation hung in the air as the echo of Barbossa's voice slowly faded to stillness. A moment passed and then another. The silence was growing with nothing happening and doubt was beginning to grow in his mind if anything would. Gods and goddesses, if they truly existed, did not normally answer a man's pleas no matter how dire and heartfelt they were. Still, a glance at the captain showed that Barbossa was still expecting something to happen.

And then he felt a cold drop of rain strike him on the top of his head. That single drop was followed by a second and a third. After the intense heat of the desert, the water felt like ice but it was refreshing as well. The rain become steadier, with large fat droplets falling all around them and upon the flat rock they knelt before. Soon the rock's surface was dark, cool water collecting in the gaps and hollows that marred its surface. And while drops danced in the puddles that formed in the hollows, no drops fell in the rum at all. Theo stared at the rum, sure he was seeing things, but no, the alcohol's surface was perfectly calm and undisturbed.

"A gift from the goddess." Barbossa sighed happily as he pulled out his empty water canteen and allowed the fresh rain water to fill it. Seeing what the captain had done, his officers followed suit. And to their utter surprise, the canteens filled within moments and soon the water was spilling over the rims.

"Barbossa, de has served me well in da past." A woman's strongly accented voice floated on the air around them, seemingly from nowhere.

"Aye, that I have." Barbossa agreed as he fearlessly continued to look at the rock where the rum offering sat.

And while the phantom-like voice didn't seem to bother the former Pirate Lord any, his lieutenants were a different story. Such things just didn't happen in the Navy where things flowed smoothly, orderly and by-the-book. Theo felt his heart speed up in response to the voice, even though the voice itself was not eerie in any way. His mind wanted to use logic, to think that the speaker was just hidden from view even though he knew that wasn't the case at all. No, it was an actual Goddess speaking… who would have thought that their current Captain had such connections. Barbossa certainly was a man with secrets.

Taking a quick glance at Andrew, Theo could see his friend was pale and wide-eyed and as confused by the voice as much as he was. He clutched the water canteen in white knuckled fingers, seemingly having forgotten he was holding it as he gawked up at the empty air. Poor Andrew was having a harder time than he was.

"De will kill the man that slaughters me daughters. He be cruel and dark-hearted, not only to me kin but to his own kind as well. He is not worthy of the Sword of Triton."

"Aye, I'll kill Blackbeard all right." Barbossa promised with a smile. "That be my goal all along and my sword is ready."

"Good. Ye head dat way to de water."

A fierce wind blew from behind the rock and etched a deep trail in the sand, the trail slowly rising over a sand dune in the distance and disappearing from sight.

"On de way you will help restore me daughters to de water de love."

"Aye, that we will." Barbossa bowed his head in promise.

The rum suddenly vanished from within the clam shell and the voice faded. Still, Theo knelt unmoving as his heart hammered away in its rib cage in case the unseen woman had anything else to say. He watched as Barbossa climbed back to his one real foot and wooden peg. He then turned to regard his officers.

"Well, what are ye kneeling there for? Get up! We only have three days to return to the land of the living or be stuck here for all eternity."

Theo quickly rose to his feet, twisting tight the cap on his water canteen. He turned to eye the trail worn deep in the sand heading off into the far distance as he noted Gillette climbing to his own feet more slowly. "So we just follow this rut in the sand?"

"Aye, that we do." Barbossa said as he started walking to one side of the trail. "But that be the easy part. The harder bit will be once we reach the water. We'll need a ship then…"

"A ship? Where will we get one?" Theo inquired as he strode forward at a quick pace. After a few steps he could already feel the soft sand sinking into his buckle shoes uncomfortably. The sand here was somewhat soft and his feet sunk in several inches with each step. He sighed but knew there was nothing to do about it, so he would just have to ignore it as best he could.

"We will have to trust our luck will hold out a bit longer. Besides, we have Calypso on our side."

They climbed up the sand dune and down the other side only to find yet another dune to climb up. The Captain's pace was steady as they silently followed the trail etched in the sand. It was reaching the peak of the third dune that they saw something ahead in the sand. Although the sun was unseen in the white sky, its heat and glare was clearly felt and seen, the fierce rays reflecting off the white sand as if it was a mirror.

"What is that down there?" Gillette asked as he tried to shade his eyes with a hand, squinting his eyes. "I can't make it out too well due to the sun. I see a bit of red though…"

Theo pulled out his golden telescope from his pocket and looked through it, carefully aiming at the unknown object. And although he twisted the lenses this way and that, the image wouldn't come into sharp focus. He frowned as he pondered if the telescope had been damaged in his tumble off the rock while being shot. They were expensive and he loathed having to buy another, but duty demanded he have a properly functioning one. But even with the somewhat fuzzy image he could see that the object was alive and struggling in the sand. "I think it's a person, perhaps one of our fallen men!"

With that said Theo shut the damaged telescope with a click and stuck it back into his pocket and then charged down the steep sandy slope. His shoes slid on the sand and he waved his arms to keep his balance on the constantly shifting surface. Puffs of sand were kicked up around him and he ran on, clearly intent on aiding the fallen person as thoughts of a broken limb or dehydration raced through his mind. He finally reached the bottom and skidded to a sudden halt about a foot away from the person that struggled in the burning sand. But upon seeing the person clearly and up close, all thoughts fled from his mind as his face turned a brilliant red to envy Andrew's real hair.

It was a naked woman, one with long hair as bright as flames.

What was a woman, especially a naked one, doing in the Locker?

"What are you staring at?" She asked him in an odd accent.

"Pardon me, Miss, but I was startled to find you here." Theo apologized as he started to remove his officer's jacket so he could cover her nakedness. It never occurred to him that she could be a mere illusion or figment of his imagination. He sensed Andrew and Barbossa coming up alongside him.

"Who is she?" Gillette asked as he kept his eyes carefully downcast so as to not shame her. "I mean, what is she doing here in the Locker?"

Theo started forward towards the lone woman, his jacket held before him.

"She's a mermaid." Barbossa explained in a sure and confident voice. "They get legs on land when they dry out. Blackbeard and his men must have killed her."

"A mermaid?" Theo cried, clearly shocked at the unexpected news. He paused where he was, unsure if he should go any closer or not. The sound of the dying men still echoed through his head as they were killed by the mermaids, eaten alive and the ship sunk. Seeing the Providence destroyed had been one of the most disturbing things he had ever seen nor had he ever dreamed that mermaids could knock over a ship like that. Nor did he understand how they could have done such a thing, as the ship was the best one the fleet had to offer and so much larger than the mermaids. Why, they didn't even have any weapons! Yes, teeth for eating men but destroying a ship? Surely it took proper cannons to do that.

"Aye, that she is." Barbossa confirmed as he gazed upon her without the slightest trace of shame or unease. "Ye act like ye never saw a naked woman before."

Theo gritted his teeth at the remark, knowing the heat was clear on his face. "Pardon me, Sir, but a gentleman does not gawk at an unclothed lady he suddenly finds unexpectedly."

Barbossa shrugged, not really caring.

Andrew darted forward then and gripped Theo by his shoulder, hauling him back. "Don't get too close to her or she might eat you!"

The captain rolled his blue eyes and sighed at the remark. "Well, one of ye is going to have to carry her to the water."

"What? Why?" Theo demanded to know as he turned to face Barbossa, the jacket in his hand forgotten for the moment. "Why should we help her when the mermaids destroyed our ship and killed our men? How do we know she won't eat us if we go close to her? You said earlier they like the taste of men…"

"Aye, that they do." Barbossa agreed as he stared unflinching into his first mate's eyes. "But she cannot walk on land and we vowed to Calypso to help her sea daughters. That's the mermaids. Why do ye think I refused to raise a hand against them earlier, at White Cap Bay? Or do ye want the vengeance of a heathen goddess coming down on ye head, Mr. Groves? She controls the sea and ye live on the sea. That not be very wise."

Theo grimaced but realized that Barbossa was right, as the thickly accented voice had said something about sea daughters; he just hadn't realized that it meant the mermaids. Turning, he uneasily looked upon the mermaid. Thankfully her long hair covered her breasts and she had her sand-covered legs folded underneath her so nothing was really visible. His upbringing and training as an officer demanded he help her, but he didn't want to get bit, either. He imagined she had some truly horrible teeth, teeth that could do real damage. From the wild and crooked trail she had left in the sand, it was clear she had been trying to crawl or drag herself forward inch by inch. There was even sand in her hair and her pale skin was clearly rubbed raw in spots. It was awful and sad to see a girl, even if she was a mermaid, in such a state. "If I come closer, you're not going to bite me, are you?"

"I don't eat carrion." She replied in her odd accent. "Those that come to the burning sands are dead. There would be no point in eating the dead."

The word carrion surprised him, as he kept forgetting that he was dead. "I certainly don't feel dead. I can feel the heat of the sand through my shoes and my heart thumping within my chest…"

"That is how the Locker works. It would not be very effective otherwise." The mermaid explained as she gazed up at him with clear blue eyes. "I have been here before and know the way it works."

"Before?" Andrew scrunched his face up in confusion. "How could you have been here before? First the Captain and now you…do people come here for vacations or what?"

"My kind knows secrets you humans do not."

"If I carry you to the water, do you promise not to bite me?" Theo asked as he hesitated, still wary about getting too close without her permission. Still, he held his jacket ready to wrap around her bare body so he could cover her up.

"Why would you help me?" She asked, confused. "Your kind murders my kind. It has been that way for centuries. Men in ships come and murder us for our tears, others just for sport."

"Not all men are the same." Theo informed her. "It breaks my heart to see one struggling in the sand so. Any decent gentleman would offer his assistance."

"Really? I never met a human I could trust before." She gazed upward at them with large eyes as blue as the tropical sea, some of the hardness leaving them at the kind words.

A white crab scuttled across the sand then, drawing the mermaid's eyes. Theo noticed it, too, then and watched in amazement as it ran right up Barbossa's leg, up his body and perched on his shoulder.

"You have Calypso's favor." The mermaid said in amazement.

"Aye, that we do." Barbossa nodded as he glanced at the crab on his shoulder. "We've vowed to stop the man responsible for the latest attack on yer people at White Cap Bay. He has committed other atrocities as well, including burning people alive. We were hunting him and his pirates, not yer people."

The mermaid hung her head, her face partly hidden by her thick red tresses. "I am sorry then if we attacked your ship, but all humans look alike to us. We cannot tell one from another. And never before has any human tried to aide us against other humans, as they seem to enjoy killing us too much. It has always been so as long as I can remember."

Theo moved forward then, draping his thick officer's jacket over her slim shoulders and pulling it closed in front. He knelt by her a moment, watching as she ran her fingers over the material, realizing that it must be totally foreign to her. Carefully sliding one arm under her knees and the other about her waist, he hoisted her up easily. Being thin as she was she didn't weigh much, so she would be easy to carry.

The Captain was apparently satisfied with the situation as he once again started after the trail that Calypso had carved into the sand. Theo fell into step behind him with Andrew walking beside him, his friend gazing at the mermaid with a mix of curiosity and confusion.

"If humans kill your kind, why don't you just stay under the water?" Andrew asked her somewhat nervously. "Truthfully, I never knew mermaids were even real. I had thought they were just a story…"

"We need humans." The mermaid explained as she wrapped one arm about Theo's shoulder. "We do not have males of our own, so we take human sailors to mate with…but they always try to kill us. We can make them breath underwater but they do not cooperate very well. They try to gouge out our eyes or stab us with a dagger or do other cruel things. We then fight back to defend ourselves from their attacks and well, with blood in the water our other instincts are activated. We go into a feeding frenzy. It's over rather quickly."

Andrew blushed at the subject matter, quickly looking the other way and Theo felt just as uncomfortable. One just didn't talk about such a subject in polite society like that, not so openly. Of course, a mermaid wouldn't know such things. How could they? And how often did they see humans anyway, a few hours maybe or even less?

"Perhaps you could approach the men differently next time?" Theo suggested as he crested the top of yet another sand dune to see the trail going off to the right instead of the straight path it had been following until now. The sudden change in direction made him ponder if there was a reason for the abrupt adjustment or if the unseen goddess simply had a whimsy because she could. Barbossa just kept plodding along ahead of him at a steady pace, not saying a word. Of course, he wasn't the one having to carry a mermaid for unknown distances. "Maybe snatching men off a ship or longboat is not the best way to go about it?"

The mermaid looked up at him in utter confusion. "What other way is there?"

"Maybe," Theo suggested as he hefted her upward a bit, cradling her against his chest. As thin as she was, she was starting to get heavy. As a lieutenant commander, he wasn't used to carrying weights for any long distance. That was what the deck crew was for. He was mainly there to supervise the crew and make sure things flowed smoothly. The heat wasn't making it any easier. "Maybe you could try asking the men you meet, to see if they are interested in a … a romantic affair."

"Just swim up and ask them? What if they say no?"

"Then ask some other ones." He breathed somewhat heavily. "I'm sure you'll find some that will agree. Sailors usually enjoy that sort of activity. Perhaps if you inform them that they can breathe underwater and that you won't eat them, you'll have a long line of eager volunteers."

The mermaid grew silent, apparently digesting the novel idea and Theo focused on breathing while keeping his footing on the shifting sands. Why must the Locker be dune after dune after dune or was that part of the torture?

A low groan from Andrew drew his attention. Glancing about, he saw the odd squiggly marks left in the sand from another mermaid hauling herself inch by inch towards the water.

"What are you moaning about, Andrew?" Theo asked him as he once again heaved the still nameless flame haired mermaid up against his chest again. "If I can carry a girl for this distance, you can! Besides, you're built stronger than I am."

The words apparently did not reassure the other at all as Andrew grimaced. "I'm already sweating like a stuffed pig…"

"Well, look on the bright side: since you're already dead you can't have a heart attack!" Theo laughed at his own joke but had to stop for much needed air. At least his arms were not numb yet…

"Ha-ha, very funny." Andrew replied as he stopped near the naked girl who sat before them on the sand, this one with long tresses as dark as a raven and eyes that matched. He silently took in the captain's pointing finger and sighed softly, then started to remove his jacket. The new mermaid made no protests about being picked up and carried, as she saw her sister – were all mermaids considered sisters to each other – being carried.

The trail veered back to the left and went up another dune. Andrew, not used to carrying the mermaid yet, had trouble finding his footing but after a few false starts made it to the top. And to both of their reliefs, the way ahead was flat as far as they could see. It was still sandy but the surface was hard and easy to walk on. The trail was harder to see here but see it they could. The captain just kept plodding on ahead of them, not bothering to glance behind him to see if they were still following or not.

"I'm glad those sand dune are done with!" Andrew said as sweat ran down his brow and stung his eyes. "And if we're dead and all, then why are we sweating?"

"I think it's to torture us…" Theo commented as he duly noted his clothes were soaked through. He was getting his second wind now, partly due to the fact that walking on the flat area was much easier, so carrying the mermaid had grown much easier. "The clothes will get wet and rub you raw in spots…"

Andrew grimaced, hating the idea straight away. "Uggh. What did we do to deserve that fate?"

The Providence sinking with screaming men on board came to Theo's mind. He hated the fact that he had just stood there on the beach, powerless, and watched. He had wanted to save them, had hoped to save them as any good commander would want to do, but the captain had said no and he had obeyed. Still, their deaths clung to his soul and he felt guilty about it. "I think it's more of what we didn't do, Andrew, not what we did."

The other man grew silent as he thought about that, puzzling it out.

"If clothes rub you raw, why do you wear them?" The red-haired mermaid asked him as she ran her fingers over the countless golden buttons on Theo's waistcoat. "They sound dreadfully uncomfortable!"

"We wear them because we are civilized." Theo explained easily enough. "It's just not proper to walk around with nothing on. And they protect us from the elements; from the burning sun and from the freezing cold and so forth."

"The sea where we live never gets cold, not unless one swims down into the deep, black trenches that cut the sea floor. Hardly anyone ever does that though, as it's very dangerous. I once saw something sparkling way down there on a shelf and I swam down to get it. It was some bauble made by man that had fallen off a passing ship." The mermaid raised her arm, revealing a golden bracelet around her delicate wrist. Tiny animals hung from the bracelet's golden chains, swaying with each step. "I love it, but my sisters think it is very strange. I look at the images and ponder what they might be, but I'll never know."

Theo started to tell her about each animal on the charm bracelet, trying to explain how one could ride a horse and how cats drank milk and how loyal dogs could be. He really didn't know if she grasped it, especially how large a horse was but then the animals of the land were dwarfed by the ones that lived in the sea. Perhaps she was used to swimming next to massive whales without blinking an eye at their great size? He would probably never know.

They paused once more as they came upon a third mermaid, this one a blonde with shocking green eyes. Barbossa just grunted and picked her up, clearly not bothered by her state of undress. The sight of the white crab on the captain's shoulder seemed to make the mermaids trust them.

They walked farther and farther for what seemed mile upon mile. The immense flatness around them looked the same, as there were no clear landmarks they could use to judge their distance. The only thing Theo spotted besides the sparkling sand under foot was a few small scattered white rocks of a smooth nature.

"Do you think we're getting anywhere?" Andrew asked out of the blue, his face red from his exertion. "It seems we've been walking forever…"

"I'm sure we're getting closer to the water with each step…" Theo replied, hoping that it was true. "Carrying a mermaid is a small price to pay if it gets us back to the land of the living."

Andrew raised his nose into the air and sniffed. "I don't smell any water. The air is as dry as ever."

"The ocean is there…" The raven-haired mermaid spoke for the first time, pointing ahead of them. "We are close now."

The news bolstered their hope and livened their steps.

Then they came upon a strange area in the flat sand, a hollow as if from a great heavy object that had rested there once upon a time. Whatever it was must have been large indeed as the footprint it left behind was gigantic. The two lieutenants paused to gawk at the mark in confusion.

"What do you think made this odd mark?" Andrew asked his best friend as he peered at it, shifting the mermaid he carried so he could see it better. "It almost looks like a ship sat here, but then where is it?"

Barbossa's blue eyes sparkled as he eyed the footprint and the drag marks that led forward. "The Pearl…."

The Captain hurried forward at a faster pace and Theo had to hurry to catch up, the mermaid bouncing in his arms. Soon they came to a sandy ledge, the sea visible at last. It stretched out before them to the horizon, dark blue as their officer's jackets and as calm as can be. The sight of the sea after all of that sand was enough to tighten his throat with unaccustomed emotion. He swallowed the lump that had formed there and blinked his eyes several times to clear the sudden moisture. If it had been left to him, no doubt he and Andrew would still be blundering about in the endless desert, lost.

The three of them slid down the steep slope as best as they could, the mermaids on their laps and once they reached the bottom, they headed straight for the surf. The wide expanse of beach, Theo noted, was utterly deserted. Not even any driftwood decorated its shore. He knew the captain earlier had spoken something about needing a ship, but he just didn't see where they were going to get one from.

Carefully Theo knelt and lowered his mermaid into the shallows, watching in amazement as her bare legs transformed into a green tail with large fins at the end. The fins were semi-transparent and looked rather delicate yet he knew they must be rather strong to propel her through the water. He took back his now wet officer's jacket, seeing her for the first time in her proper form. He had to admit she was beautiful. No wonder sailors often fell in love with mermaids…or the idea of them anyway.

The other mermaids were in the water now as well, flicking their tails about in utter relief. They ducked down under the waves to thoroughly wet their skin and hair, as the desert must have been a true nightmare for them.

He glanced at his captain from where he knelt by the water's edge to see Barbossa standing and staring down the shoreline, no doubt looking for the ship he had hoped to find. Satisfied that the captain wasn't about to walk off just yet, he returned his attention to his mermaid. "Will you be all right now?"

"Yes, my sisters and I will return to White Cap Bay." The mermaid informed him as she soaked in the gentle surf. "We have made the journey from here before. It won't take very long at all. But how will you get back?"

"The captain said something about needing a ship…"

"Aye, we need a ship." Barbossa agreed as he turned to look at the flame haired mermaid who seemed to be the spokeswoman of the group. "Do ye know where we can find one?"

"There are many ships out there…" the mermaid pointed out to open expanse of the sea. "Little ships with people in them."

"Aye, little rowboats." Barbossa nodded his understanding. "But are there any other ships, one that's closer?"

"We could take you…" the mermaid offered as she splashed her tail flukes in the water. "We will be returning to White Cap Bay, going the fast way. You see, we are immortal more or less. We may die but we always return to the land of the living. We just swim through a shimmering curtain of special water and then we are there. As a green tail, I'm one of the leaders of our school so I can make you this offer. You have been kind and have carried us to the water. Now let us carry you through the sea."

"You..you mean go in the water…with you?" Andrew gulped nervously as his eyes grew wide. Carrying one had been one thing, but being in the water with them was another.

"Yes, how else will you get home?" She asked, correctly understanding his fears. "We will not bite you, those who have been kind to us. But you must not panic and attack us in the water either. I realize it must be a hard thing for a human to accept, to breathe under water, but we can make it so. All it takes is a single kiss."

Theo admitted the idea of being in the water with the mermaid was a bit unsettling and he wiped his sweaty palms on his uniform pants. Yes, she seemed trustworthy but how could he know for sure? The screaming he had witnessed, that was a hard thing to forget and once he was in the water, he would be at her mercy. She could do anything she wanted really and he would be pretty helpless, Sure, he could swim but it was impossible to out swim a fish in its natural habitat. It all came down to trust really.

But then, the final decision was not his.

But he did trust her. She didn't seem like some evil monster but just a girl that was curious about things.

He turned to see Barbossa fingering the hilt of his poisoned sword, his eyes dark with thoughts of revenge.

"Can ye take us to the Fountain?"

"Yes, there are water filled tunnels that go there." She replied after thinking for a moment. "And be aware that time passes differently here than there. More than likely very little time has passed there, so whoever killed you would still be there."

"Perfect." Barbossa smiled somewhat evilly. "All right, gents, we're going with the mermaids. If Jack can friend with them so can we."

"We're doomed…" Andrew groaned.

"Look on the bright side, Andrew. You get to kiss a pretty girl."

"Yeah, one that might have teeth like a shark."

"Maybe, but she's still a girl." Theo pointed out as he knelt on the damp sand at the water's edge, the cold surf flowing over his fingers and hands. The red-haired mermaid was just before him and he leaned forward, closer to her. She at the same time was reaching for him with eager hands that dripped cold drops of water, her skin glistening. Her arms wrapped about his neck and then her warm lips were pressed against his. Within a heartbeat he was pulled out into the deeper water and under. Then her mouth pulled away and her arms shifted to lock about his chest, her body pressed flush against his. He quickly wrapped his arms about her and hung on as they sped through the dark depths with amazing ease.

There was a panicky moment when he could feel his lungs start to ache for air and his mind assisted that there was none to breathe. To take a breath while under water went against everything he had ever done. To do so normally was deadly. Humans just couldn't breathe water. And he was a bit unsure what would happen if he did take a breath. Would cold water rush into his lungs or would he get air? Did the kiss make him grow a pair of gills or something? But he could hold the breath no longer and he gasped for air, pleasantly surprised to discover that he could indeed breathe under water! Whatever the kiss had done, it had worked wonderfully and he decided to enjoy this rare journey.

Theo was amazed at how quickly they were swimming. Even hauling his extra weight they were moving at an incredible speed. He could see Barbossa with the blonde off to one side and Andrew with the raven haired mermaid to the other. The water around them was dark and chilly, but up ahead some sparkly circle awaited. Realizing it must be the shimmering curtain of water the mermaid had mentioned earlier, he focused his eyes on it. They grew closer and closer and then it was right before them. As they passed through, a warm tingling coursed over his body.

The water around them was a crystal blue-green, the visibility stretching far around on all sides. Better yet, the water here was warm, wonderfully warm after the bitter cold of the Locker's dark sea. Countless colorful fish darted all around them, the fish often traveling in large groups. And there was coral and other assorted sea plants everywhere. It was the most amazing sight and he had never dreamed that such a world existed under the hulls of the ships he had traveled on.

A steep wall rose up before them and there was a dark opening in the rock that led who knows where. The mermaid propelled them right into the opening and soon they were twisting through the odd turns of a tunnel. Theo realized that they must be on the way back to the Fountain now and what had taken them days to travel overland through the thick jungles would take her only a short swim. Sometimes the tunnel branched but she seemed confident on which path to take, never hesitating at all.

And then he could hear voices, angry ones by the sound of it.

"You killed him, you idiots!" Blackbeard shouted at someone. "I wanted to use him with the Fountain to get more years!"

"We're sorry, Captain! I didn't know he was going to shoot a dart at the same time I did! It was just a freak accident!"

"Yeah, we was trying to help you!"

And there were thickly accented Spanish voices too…

"Only God can grant eternal life…"

Theo's head slowly rose out of one of the deep pools that surrounded the Fountain of Youth, his sharp eyes taking it all in. He could see the pirate Blackbeard was now eyeing the Spaniard with lust, no doubt planning on stealing his years of life instead of Barbossa's. It really didn't matter to the black-hearted pirate whose years he got, just as long as it was years. The very thought disgusted Theo to his core.

The Spaniard, meanwhile, seemed to be unaware of the danger he was in as he was looking upon the two silver chalices with loathing. He then dropped them to the ground and stomped on each one.

Jack Sparrow was hovering about in his nervous sort of way and he could see several of their Navy men in the background, including at least one lieutenant and a few midshipmen. Things were not totally lost yet and they had returned just in time it seemed to win the battle yet.

Barbossa crawled silently out of another deep pool of water, climbing to his feet silently as he freed his poisoned blade from its scabbard. Sneaking up behind Blackbeard, his sword whipped out and cut him one on the hand.

"What devil is this?" Blackbeard asked as he stared at the red cut that ran across the top of his hand. Turning, he was shocked to see the one-legged man standing before him alive!

The Pirate Lord turned privateer shoved his blade through Blackbeard, pushing until the hilt ran into the other man's chest. "For the Pearl."

All confusion broke out then, with the Spanish trying to destroy the Fountain and others running about trying to save Blackbeard. Theo darted out of the pool of water, Andrew hot on his heels, as they gathered up the remaining crew members, crew members who seemed very startled to see them alive and apparently uninjured!

"I claim Blackbeard's ship and crew and this sword for my missing limb!" Barbossa waved the Sword of Triton in the air and set off towards the exit from the Fountain. Andrew and Theo fell into step behind their captain, the rough pirate crew hurrying after them along with the surviving Navy men. The two groups eyed each other suspiciously, the Navy men not trusting the pirates and the pirates nervous about the law-abiding Navy. The hostility and unease was almost a physical thing. Theo knew that the pirates had fared better in the fight, so there were more of them uninjured than their own people who had to be dragged or carried. He was already thinking ahead, trying to figure out how in the world he was ever going to get the two vastly different groups to co-exist on the same ship peacefully, if that was even possible.

Of course, he saw the logic in claiming Blackbeard's crew, as any ship needed a deck crew. They had lost theirs when the Providence sank so it was just common sense really. But pirates…how disciplined were they really? Would they follow orders? More importantly, would they follow his orders?

He carefully dropped through the odd pool of water and into the cave, then followed Barbossa back into the jungle. The trek back to the beach seemed to go much faster for some reason and soon he got his first view of the Queen Anne's Revenge. She was clearly a huge ship, standing much higher out of the water and with a taller hull than the Providence had. Even from here he could see the sails were an odd mix of red and black shading and littered with holes. And by God, was that a human skeleton propped on the front as a figurehead? Theo frowned in utter disgust at the sickening display. Somehow he feared it was a real one and not some clever wooden prop. Blackbeard clearly had no respect for the dead.

Andrew must have noticed it, too, as he frowned. "I wonder what other horrors we'll find on board."

"Nothing too ghastly I hope." Theo replied as he continued to study the ship while the captain paused on top of a rock, taking in the view himself. "Besides, I'm sure we've seen it all before."

The pirate crew, loud and boisterous, raced over to the longboats that had been left on the beach several days ago. They busied themselves getting the little wooden boats ready for the voyage back to the Revenge.

"At least they seem to be competent in their duties…" Andrew remarked as he studied how they worked. He inched closer to Theo, his eyes flickering for a moment towards Barbossa. "I admit I've been a bit worried about commanding a group of pirates. I'm not sure what to expect truthfully…"

"Neither do I, but I'm sure it will be fine." Theo smiled at his best friend, trying to reassure him that it will be OK. "I'm sure even pirate ships have discipline on them or else they would kill each other off."

The thought that was left unsaid between them was on both of their minds: the fact that their privateer captain may very well go back to piracy now and drag them along for the ride. It created an odd feeling in the pit of his stomach, like a strange mix of dread and excitement. It threw his thoughts into a confused jumble as well and he found himself unsure of what he should do. The Navy said he must obey the captain's orders and that they weren't allowed to desert…to abscond was a court martial offense. But in a normal situation the captain was not an ex-pirate lord who very well might go back to his old habits. How was he to guess what Barbossa may do next? He ran a tight ship and may be a bit rude at times, but he still acted the proper captain.

"The Revenge is mine." Barbossa breathed as he stepped off of the rock and started to make his way to one of the longboats that was now ready to take to sea.

Theo and Andrew followed him, getting into the same longboat. They found themselves facing one of the new pirates, a seemingly jolly fellow with a slightly plump face and long brown locks. He gripped the oar and started rowing in tandem with the other fellow next to him. Every so often he would scan the water around them, a hopeful expression on his face.

"I'm in love…" the pirate said dreamily.

"Are ye still thinking about that bloody mermaid?" the other fellow next to him said in annoyance. "Ferget her, Scrum! They're bad news!"

"But she was so beautiful!" Scrum insisted, managing to look dreamy while still rowing in perfect time. "I almost had a proper kiss from her, too! Just think, a kiss from a real honest-to-God mermaid!"

The older sailor huffed loudly, making his displeasure known.

"Yer just jealous 'cuz you were on the other longboat, the one with the powder kegs and didn't get to see any up close." Scrum remarked as he glanced to the side to peer at the water. "Besides, that one the bible thumper had seemed like a decent enough sort. What did he call her, Serena?"

"Yer hopeless!" The other remarked as they drew alongside the Revenge and he reached out to take hold of the ship's hull, holding the longboat steady. "Kissing one of them is like kissing a shark!"

The Captain climbed the ladder on the side of the ship and Theo followed, Andrew following behind him. Soon they were on the deck and they followed the captain towards the helm at the rear. On the way there, they both stared in horror at a wall that was decorated with human skulls.

It was worse than they had feared. After all, Blackbeard had been a very bad man.

Barbossa, however, didn't seem to notice the gristly wall display at all or else he just didn't react openly to it. That lack of reaction troubled Theo and he began to second guess his command choice of continuing to follow Barbossa. But then, maybe the captain just wanted to claim command and he would deal with the ghastly stuff later? The thought reassured him and he hoped that it was true. Either that or he would order it dismantled himself. The Revenge would transform into a proper ship.

The Captain moved to stand behind the ship's wheel, running his hand lovingly along the smoothly curved wood. He caressed it for a short time, a pleased expression on his face.

Theo moved to where his post was normally, with Andrew positioned on the other side near the helm. From this elevated height they could easily watch the crew below on the lower open deck. The Revenge was built differently than the Providence was, but it was easy enough for them to know where to stand. The crew stood down below, their eager faces looking up at them. There was a mix of scruffily dressed pirates and neatly attired Navy men, the surviving third lieutenant and the midshipmen standing out from among the rest. The injured men had been taken down below to berths where they could rest.

"I hereby take command of the Queen Anne's Revenge!" Barbossa loudly proclaimed as he raised the Sword of Triton in the air.

The pirates cheered loudly while the Navy just stood there listening intently.

Just then a flash of color appeared along the side rail and Theo's sharp eyes caught it right away. He turned in that direction and was startled to see it was one of the mermaids, but one he had not met before. Even from as far away as he was, he could see she had the most stunning, mesmerizing eyes he had ever seen. She clung to the side of the rail, her arms crossed over each other as her long green tail flickered in the open air.

A loud shout of fear rang out as one of the pirates saw her, the man trying to dash the other way in a wild panic. He collided with two other pirates, knocking them to the hard deck.

"Mermaid!" Someone shouted. "Run for your lives!"

"Kill her!" Another shouted as a sword was drawn.

The Navy men glanced about uneasily, uncertain what they should do. Their hands hovered on their swords and pistols as their eyes rose up to the command deck to see what the captain would order.

"Hold ye attack!" Barbossa shouted, his clear voice ringing out. He pulled the Sword of Triton from its scabbard and all of the men that had tried to attack the mermaid was hoisted up into the rigging by the thick ropes. They then hung there, clearly startled.

"It's my sweetheart!" Scrum shouted as he saw her clinging to the rail and started running towards her with open arms, a big grin pasted to his face.

The older pirate, the gruff one who he had been rowing with, gripped the back of Scrum's jacket and clung tight, his heels digging into the wooden planks. "No ye don't! She'll eat you!"

"I won't eat anyone." The mermaid promised with her lovely voice. "My sister returned to me today and brought with her a new idea. We have apparently been going about this all wrong. It has been wrong of us to snatch men off of ships and boats for our own purposes and now we will try to set that right. Instead we will ask for volunteers."

"No one will volunteer to be ate!" someone shouted.

"We need men to mate with. We can make you breathe underwater with a kiss. But you must remain calm and not attack us. Those we have killed in the past have always attacked us underwater. Then after the mating we can return you here."

"She be telling the truth." Barbossa informed his crew. "Me and me officers swam with thee mermaids after we fell at the Fountain. We were in the Locker and we carried them to the sea. Then they pulled us through the sea and returned us to the Fountain. And ye all can see we are still alive and in one piece. Those of ye wanting to frolic with thee pretty mermaids are welcome to go. We will wait for ye here. And those of ye that won't, best save ye coins for the wenches in Tortuga."

A loud mass of confusion broke out among the crew then, everyone talking at once. Men milled about, plainly unsure what they should do. Scrum, however, had no problem deciding. He ripped free of the older man and dashed over to his mermaid, smiling at her somewhat shyly. "Hi."

"Hello." She replied as she stared him in the eyes.

A few more mermaids appeared at the rails, some on each side of the ship. They looked hopefully at the men, waiting.

Theo stood at his post on the upper command deck watching as men slowly inched over to the various mermaids that clung to the rail. He felt very pleased that his idea had worked so well and had stopped a centuries old interspecies feud. The mermaid he had carried must have really taken his words to heart. He felt eyes on him then and turned to see her, the flame-haired mermaid from the Locker, clinging to the back rail looking at him. He gulped a bit nervously, as her intentions were clear. Her raven-haired sister appeared next to her then, her dark eyes going to Gillette's back, who hadn't noticed them yet. Theo inched over to his friend, poking him in the ribs and pointing at the rear rail.

"What?" Andrew asked in confusion. "I'm trying to watch the men….Oh, it's them."

"Go on if ye want to…" Barbossa waved a hand at them.

"Oh, but we really don't know them…" Andrew blurted, clearly embarrassed.

Barbossa rolled his eyes and sighed. "This ain't some party at a swanky manor with the wealthy daughter of some lord. There ain't no need to be all proper. They be mermaids. Take them to ye cabin if ye want privacy. I'm sure they don't care."

"But…" Andrew protested, even more embarrassed now than before.

"Don't worry." Barbossa smoothed. "No one will ever know…"

"Are you sure?" Andrew asked him, doubtfully. "I thought the Navy ran on scuttlebutt and that would be awful juicy gossip. What if the Admiralty hears about it?"

"Tell them it's a lie. Why would they care anyway? It's a blasted mermaid, not some national secret! That's the problem with ye gents: yer too nervous to get a woman. Even that fancy-smancy Commodore couldn't get one. Maybe ye better start practicing. Mermaids be a good start. And then ye can work ye way up to normal ones…"

Theo frowned, sure he had been insulted again. Was the captain implying he couldn't get a girl? That was very ridiculous! Of course he and Andrew could get some if they wanted to, but it was wrong to take advantage of a pretty maid in that crude manner. Perhaps it was common practice in Tortuga, but gentlemen weren't supposed to behave in such a way. But then, maybe mermaids were a unique case? It wasn't like they could marry a human man when the two lived in different realms, one under the sea and the other up top. How could that work out anyway? It would be nothing more than a onetime fling.

"Go on and quit yer stalling!" Barbossa shoved them forward, a firm hand on their backs. Theo stumbled and caught his balance, his hands reaching out for the wooden rail to steady himself. His eyes rose and he found himself looking into her clear blue ones. They were like deep blue lagoons. He turned to take one last look at the ship. He supposed he wouldn't be gone long, a few hours at the most. It was a long way down o the water from here.