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PotC FF: "The Fall of a Sparrow" 2/9

Chapter Two

Six Months Earlier…




“Mr. Gibbs?”

The hoarse whisper and squall of putrid breath brought Gibbs awake with a start. “Blast it, what—?”

“Shhhh….” Ragetti’s face was close to his, one eye darting here and there, dirty fingers hovering over Gibbs’ mouth in an attempt to silence him. “You needs to come on deck, sir,” he whispered. “It’s the captain.”

Gibbs’ heart sank. “What time is it?”

“Half way through the second watch, sir. Hour or so from dawn.”

Rubbing the grit from his eyes, Gibbs slid as quietly as possible from his hammock and pulled on his coat. “Who else is on deck?”

“Just Pintel and Cotton, sir.”

“Davies?”

Ragetti shook his head. “Sleeping like a baby. If babies were wont to sleep in hammocks aboard pirate ships, that is.”

“Better that he stays that way,” Gibbs muttered, pushing past Ragetti and heading for the stairs. “Better for Jack, better for us all.”

The air was dead on deck; they’d been drifting in the doldrums for five days now and the crew were getting anxious. Ill-omened, they said, to be so becalmed. Gibbs growled at such nonsense, though he cast a grim glare skyward tonight and prayed for a breeze. Ill-omens aside, the captain wasn’t taking their current predicament well. Not well at all. When he wasn’t cursing the crew, as if they could raise a breeze by will alone, he was babbling about rocks, or crabs, or some such nonsense. And the men were casting narrow-eyed looks at each other, and to the quartermaster, John Davies. The line between brilliance and madness was fine indeed, but no crew would sail under a captain who had crossed it. And these days…

Gibbs stopped at the head of the steps and Ragetti crowded up behind him.

“By the mainmast,” Ragetti whispered in his ear. “See?”

And there was the captain in naught but britches and shirt, as if just roused from his bed. Cast silver in the moonlight he paced near the mainmast, muttering to himself and pulling at his wrist as if there was something there he was trying to remove. Gibbs threw a look at Ragetti. “Have you spoken to him?”

“Aye, when he first came on deck, sir. I asked, polite as can be, if he wanted to take the helm. But ‘twas as if I’d not spoken. Not sure he heard me at all.”

Bad, and not for the first time. “Stay here,” Gibbs said. “See to it that none of the crew come on deck – especially not Davies.”

Carefully, Gibbs crossed the deck and stopped some yards from where Jack stood muttering to himself. After watching him a moment, he said, “Captain?”

Jack started, stared down at the deck and then up again, terror in his eyes as he turned to gaze out over the port rail. “Not so bad,” he said. And then, “Oh.” He bent down as if to pick up something and place it on his head. Then he made to draw his sword, though he had none at his side, and his lips curled into a fierce snarl. “Hello, beastie.” With that he charged at the port rail, as though to throw himself into the sea, but at the last moment he arched back with a harsh cry and collapsed onto the deck, huddling against the hull, arms over his head.

“Mary, mother of God.” Gibbs dashed across the deck to crouch before Jack. “Captain… Can you hear me?”

“Dark,” Jack was muttering. “Like daggers. Hurts…”

Hesitantly, Gibbs reached out to touch the man’s shoulder and Jack jumped as if burned. “Easy there, Jack…”

He stared with unseeing eyes, breathing hard and still as stone. Then, slowly, he blinked. “Gibbs?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Has she gone, then?”

“Who, sir?”

“Her. Elizabeth. Has she gone?”

Gibbs scratched his head. “Elizabeth, sir? Do you mean Miss Swann?”

“Who else would I bloody mean?”

“Sir, we’ve not seen Miss Swann these ten years. Remember? Not since the battle at Shipwreck Cove.”

Jack blinked and frowned. “Ten years?”

“You’ve been dreaming again, sir.” Or worse. “Go back to your cabin now, and rest. ‘Tis not dawn yet, Jack.”

Carefully, eyes darting wildly two and fro, Jack climbed to his feet. “Wasn’t dreaming,” he said, rubbing a hand over his mouth. “Just… inspecting the state of the ship. It’s a bloody disgrace, Gibbs, neither acceptable nor adequate. It is, in obvious fact, an abomination.”

“I’ll see to it, sir.”

Jack glanced up at the empty sails, slack in the airless night, and his shoulders slumped. “No wind.”

“No, sir.”

“Of course there’s no bloody wind.”

“Not for five days, sir. But we’re well provisioned and I believe I saw a cloud upon the horizon at dusk; we’ll get a breeze soon enough…”

“A breeze?” Jack turned on his heel. “My soul, I do swear, for a breeze. A gust, a whisper, a kiss…”

Oh, to see the man so undone. “Rest, Captain.” Gibbs said, a guiding hand on his shoulder moving him toward his cabin. “I’ll fetch you, should we have a sniff of a breeze.”

Jack nodded. “Aye. Or of a peanut.”

“Sleep, sir, if you can.”

A darkly lucid look flickered through Jack’s eyes. “Perchance to dream, eh? Aye, there’s the rub, indeed.”

“You’ll feel better for some rest.”

For a moment, Jack fixed him with a penetrating look. “I doubt that, but life is short and death eternal. I suppose I’ll rest then.”

With that he walked off, barefoot across the deck, and into his cabin. The door closed with a slam that reverberated in Gibbs’ aging heart; for over ten years he’d sailed with Captain Sparrow, but he knew, now, it could not continue much longer. There was a limit to what a man’s mind could endure unscathed, and it was clear to Gibbs that Jack Sparrow had exceeded that limit – their last adventure being the proverbial straw upon the camel’s back.

And the worst of it was, Gibbs had no idea how to help his old friend; not for the first time he wished for the wisdom of Tia Dalma. But her knowledge had passed beyond the reach of men and who, now, could aid them? Who could call back Captain Sparrow’s bright spirit from the dark places in which it dwelt?

***


The docks of Shipwreck Cove were as ramshackle as the rest of the city, but on days such as today, when the sun glittered on the still waters and the ships’ colours gleamed bright and cheerful, Elizabeth felt it was one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Especially so when the Caída del Gorrión rode at anchor, waiting for her captain and ready to make sail. “Will you not come with us?” she asked Will as they walked, hand-in-hand, along the docks toward her ship. “It’s beautiful weather to be at sea, and the journey’s not long. We’ll be back inside a month.”

He smiled that quiet smile of his. “I’ve been ashore only six months, my love – if you can call this place ‘shore’ – and I’ve no desire to spend even a day at sea.” He stopped her with a gentle tug. “Unless it is to sail home, for good.”

“Will…” She touched his face and smiled, though her heart was uneasy at the weight in his voice. “Is it really so bad here?”

He leaned into her palm, then turned to kiss it. “Ten years at sea, Elizabeth. I yearn for the scent of green grass and rain-damp soil, for the feel of the earth beneath my feet. Can you not understand that?”

“Of course I can.” She looked over at her ship, smiling when she saw her son – their son – already high in the Gorrión’s rigging. “But you must understand that I have built a life here, for Liam and I. To leave now…”

“Yes,” Will said earnestly. “A life for you and Liam, and I have nothing but admiration for all that you’ve done. But it’s not just you and Liam now, is it? We’re together, at last. A family. And we can have a new life, somewhere were grass grows and trees bear fruit… I’ve had so much of the sea, so much of death. Elizabeth, can we not live among growing things instead of the rotting bones of these dead hulks?”

It seemed odd to her that Will could not see the beauty of Shipwreck Cove, that he couldn’t appreciate the loveliness in the sculpted lines of the ships, or the chaotic brilliance of the life surrounding them. No grass, no trees, but people – wonderful, eccentric, vibrant people from all over the world. The idea of living alone, far from the sea and all it washed ashore, filled her with a suffocating kind of panic. Not to mention the thought of abandoning her people, her duties… “What would I do?” she asked him. “What would I do in this new life?”

His eyes grew tender, warm. “Mother another child, perhaps? Or two. Be the warm heart of our family, Elizabeth.”

A proper role, indeed, for a lady of good breeding. She shivered in a sudden cool breeze. “We’ll talk more upon my return.”

“I’ll count the days.”

She smiled, though felt little humour. “That used to be my lot.”

“Mine too,” he reminded her with a kiss. “Don’t think I wasn’t—”

Captain Swann!” The shout came from the far end of the dock, Sanders running toward them, red-faced and puffed.

She exchanged a glance with Will. “What is it?” she asked as her first mate drew closer.

“You’re needed, Captain. Right away.”

“About what?” She cast a wistful look at her ship, dancing in the sunshine. “Can Captain Teague not deal with it?”

“’Tis Captain Teague who requests your presence, Miss. In his private quarters.”

Elizabeth sighed. “Bloody pirates! Must I do everything myself?” To Will she said, “Tell the crew to hold fast, we’ll miss the tide now and will have to wait until the morning. Console Liam as best you can.”

Will nodded, though failed to hide his pleasure at her delay – a fact that rankled Elizabeth more than she thought proper.



No doubt once the state cabin of some vast galleon, Captain Teague’s quarters presided over the Great Hall of Shipwreck cove. The hall was silent and empty today, and though the balcony doors were open Elizabeth found Teague in his customary deep leather chair near the fireplace, puffing on his long-stemmed pipe. A treasure trove of trinkets and antiquities covered the walls and sat in ramshackle piles in this pirate’s den, his life writ as large here as upon his weathered face.

It was rare that Elizabeth was summoned to his presence – and summoned was exactly the right word, for all that she was King of this place. So, despite her disappointment at losing a good day’s sailing, she was curious as she let her eyes grow accustomed to the gloom Teague preferred. “I was about to set sail,” she said as she approached the true power of Shipwreck Cove. “What is it that needs such urgent attention?”

Teague said nothing at first, simply sucked on his pipe and blew out a long, blue streamer of smoke. Then he said, “A message.”

“About what?”

He jerked his head toward the fireplace and sucked again on his pipe. “Listen for yourself.”

It was only then that she realised they were not alone. Another man stood, statue-still, on the opposite side of the fireplace. Dressed in soft brown leathers, from his long coat to his buckskin boots, he had not the look of a pirate about him. Night-dark eyes shone from a fine-boned face, his ebony hair gleamed in the firelight and was tied loosely at the nape of his neck, and when he offered her a courteous bow he moved with the lithe grace of a cat. He was easily one of the handsomest men Elizabeth had ever met. “Enriquillo Barahona,” he said in a softly accented voice. Not Spanish, though, something else.

She inclined her head in a short bow of her own. “Captain Elizabeth Swann. What brings you to Shipwreck Cove, sir?”

“You do, as it happens, Captain Swann.”

“Me?” She looked at Teague, but he was watching her with his usual inscrutability and gave nothing away. “Have you a matter to be brought before the Brethren, then?”

“No. The matter is personal.”

Elizabeth frowned. “How so? I don’t believe we’ve ever met.”

He smiled, a slow gleam of ivory against his tanned skin, and for an instant she was reminded sharply of another smile, another face. One lost to her now. “Perhaps we should sit?” Enriquillo suggested. “The story is a long one and my legs have yet to recover from being at sea. The room still pitches like a ship, it seems.”

“You are not a man of the sea then?” Elizabeth asked, taking a seat close to Teague.

“I prefer a horse to a boat,” he agreed, sitting not on a chair but cross-legged upon the floor. “But when the Devil drives…”

“Then it must be a matter of importance that brings you here.”

“It is.” He looked at Teague, as if expecting the man to speak. When he did not, Enriquillo turned his striking eyes back on Elizabeth and said, “My brother’s soul.”

Elizabeth blinked. “Your brother’s soul?”

“It is lost in Coaybay and must be returned.”

Again she looked at Teague for comment, but all he did was blow another stream of smoke. “Forgive me,” Elizabeth said. “Coy Bay…? I’ve not heard—”

Coaybay,” Enriquillo repeated, emphasising the pronunciation. “The place where the souls of the dead rest.”

“Ah…” Understanding dawned. “So your brother is dead, then?”

Enriquillo shook his head, loose strands of straight hair drifting over his eyes. “If he were dead, there would not be a problem. He lives, though his soul lingers in Coaybay and he cannot free himself from that place.

Lost, Elizabeth turned in appeal to Teague. The bloody man had brought her here for some purpose and she doubted it had anything to do with raising the dead. “Captain…?”

Teague took another long pull on his pipe, and through the smoke said, “Coaybay, Hades. Or the Locker.”

It was as if a fist had siezed her heart and squeezed until it bled. She turned to Enriquillo. “Your brother… What is his name?”

He smiled that too-familiar smile again. “He has many, but I believe you know him as Jack Sparrow. And he has grave need of you, Elizabeth Swann. Grave need indeed.”

***


Sleep had become as elusive as a ghost, slipping like mist between his fingers whenever he tried to grasp it. Exhaustion was no cure, nothing could douse the fire that raged constantly in his mind. An eternal flame, burning, burning all night long.

He sat, now, at his table staring blindly at the charts. His eyes were more splintered than Ragetti’s, and his head ached with the effort of thought. And behind it all, the fire burned on…

Bloody fool to imagine she could— Can’t bear to think on it now, the silent lies she told with those pretty lips of hers. Believed them, though, didn’t I? They made the death to come seem worth the having…

And on and on. His limbs jerked suddenly, painfully; too tired, so tired. Too tired to sleep. He pushed himself to his feet and tried to listen past the burning for sounds of life on deck. Must be morning, must be men around. Too early for rum? No, never too early for rum. But rum brings the monsters and doesn’t bring the sleep, though it’s worth it for a few moments respite…

Worse than death, is madness. The only sound in your head is your own voice, talking around and around and around. Nothing but words, and them no more than a bit of empty air. And there’s no escape. Nowhere to go, in the end…

Nowhere but rum. Fetching his hat from the table, Jack went to the door and stepped out into the breathless, brilliant white of the morning. Something like a gunshot exploded in his chest, a sudden heat racing through his blood as his heart started galloping. Jaw clenched, he tried to deny the memory, tried to refuse to think about—

The sword slides in like violence, hot and sticky with blood. “It’s that sort of thinking got us into this mess,” he says as he watches himself die.

“Captain?”

“The doldrums, sir. Has the entire crew on edge.”

The air is dead and dry as bleached bones. Like himself. Like them all. “I have no sympathy for any of you feculent maggots, and no patience to pretend otherwise…”


“Captain Sparrow?”

“Gentlemen, I wash my hands of this weirdness…”

“Sir, take care!” Someone grabbed his coat, his legs, and he tumbled in an undignified heap from the ship’s rail to the deck.

Prone, he stared up at Gibbs’ anxious face. “For the love of God, sir, what did you mean to accomplish by throwing yerself into the sea?”

He said nothing at first, and then, “But the rum is gone.”

Gibbs glanced at someone out of Jack’s sight. “Harper, get the captain a bottle from the hold.”

“Better make that a barrel,” Jack said, pushing to his feet and flashing a grin at the assembled crew. No one returned it. Most hurried about their duties, afraid, no doubt, of his recent tendency to quicksilver anger, but the quartermaster… What was his name? Henry? Jim? John? Yes, that was it, John. John Davies.

Now he had mutiny enough in his eyes to draw the lightning rage that curled in the pit of Jack’s stomach. “Get about your business, man,” Jack snarled. “Lest you find yourself food for the beastie, savvy?”

Davies said nothing, but Jack caught the dark look he sent Gibbs and wished fervently for his rum. Or death, whichever came sooner.

***


Elizabeth stared at the man before her and now that she thought about it she could see something of Jack in his brother; the same fine features, the same grace of movement, though Enriquillo was broader and calmer. A still lake to Jack’s raging ocean.

“You should know,” she said carefully, “that I have not seen your brother for over eleven years.”

Enriquillo nodded. “That, I know.”

“Is he…?” She hesitated over the question, ridiculously self-conscious and keenly aware of Teague’s scrutiny. “Is he here with you?”

“No. The last time I saw him was three years ago, since then only in dreams.”

Elizabeth felt her eyes widen. “In dreams?”

“We are natiao. Brothers.”

That, it seemed, was to be explanation enough. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t understand…”

Enriquillo paused, considering. “What do you know of the Fountain of Youth?”

“That it is no more than a legend.”

He smiled. “No legend. But dangerous, unpredictable, and not what it seems. We were not all made for immortality.” His eyes turned, then, to Teague – his father.

Lowering his pipe Teague said, “I warned him, but Jackie never heeded a warning in his life.” Enriquillo laughed softly at that, an affectionate agreement. “Told him he’d have to live with himself.” His shrewd gaze fell on Elizabeth. “Didn’t know, then, that he’d left half himself behind.”

She felt her face flush with a shame she’d been careful to keep hidden, but which could no longer be avoided. Her chin lifted, defiant still. “You mean in the Locker.”

“Weren’t himself, when he came back.”

She often remembered those last, desperate days and realised, now, that she’d hardly spoken a word to Jack throughout. It was all a whirl of violence and grey death, and she couldn’t point to a single moment’s calm in the whole mess. “I didn’t notice,” she was forced to say, the words bitter in her mouth. Had she really spared him so little thought, after all that she had cost him?

“Jack takes care to hide what he does not wish others to see,” Enriquillo said gently. “Do not blame yourself for that, Captain Swann.”

“Elizabeth…” she corrected with a hesitant smile.

Enriquillo returned it, a dazzling expression that reminded her painfully of his brother. “Elizabeth, then,” he said carefully. Then, after a moment’s pause, “When I met Jack, three years ago, he was searching for the Fountain of Youth. I saw that he carried a great fear of death and that he was driven by devils to escape it, and I warned him that the aqua de vida could not save him from their persecution. He paid me no heed.” He cast a rueful look at Teague. “And some time later, though not with my help, he must have found the spring.

“He returned full of youth, but there was terror in his eyes. I saw it, felt it. And have done, ever since, in my dreams – his dreams. The aqua de vida has turned his mind back to his death and trapped him there; the water of life is not for the dead, do you see? Jack’s spirit still lingered in the world of the dead when he drank from the spring of life, and now he exists between the two – and only madness lies there.”

“Madness?”

“And death, in the end. Body and soul must be reunited, and if his soul cannot escape the moment of his death then his body must follow.”

Into the heavy silence that followed Elizabeth said, “And you believe I can help him?”

“Only the one who brought him to his death can guide him back to life.” Enriquillo fixed her with a serious look. “You too must enter his dreams, Captain Swann. And I can help you…”

***


It was a scene from Hell itself, Gibbs thought, a tableau painted by Lucifer in all his ghastly glory.

Harper stood, shackled to the mainmast, his shirt ripped away and three ugly welts across his back. The deck was soaked with rum, the broken barrel discarded near to where Jack Sparrow stood, his bloody fingers clutching the makeshift cat’ he’d torn from a rope with his own frantic hands. And he stared at it now, as if at a monster from the deep, his face broken in horror and streaked with sweat, the whole crew watching him on the knife-edge of mutiny.

“I didn’t—” Jack said, staring at the whip. “I didn’t want...”

Across the rum-soaked deck Gibbs met the eyes of John Davies, quartermaster and, next to the captain, the most powerful man on board. He saw no victory in Davies’ eyes, only sadness and the same fear they all felt. But, even so, Gibbs couldn’t bring himself to give the man a nod of approval. Instead, he went to Jack.

“Captain?”

He dropped the whip suddenly, the heel of his hand pressing against his forehead. “I can’t make it stop.”

“You need to rest, sir. You need to—”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Jack yelled suddenly, pushing Gibbs away. “None of you! You don’t know. You don’t bloody know…” He buried his face in his hands. “It won’t stop. It won’t bloody stop. Can’t think, can’t sleep— The only sound in your head is your own voice, talking around and around and around. Nothing but words, and them no more than a bit of empty air. And there’s no escape. Nowhere to go, in the end, but inside your own mind.” He turned, fingers clenched in his hair now, still talking as he lurched toward his cabin. “And so, of course, I went back to the bloody ship. That was my first mistake. No, not the first mistake…”

Gibbs went to follow, but Davies seized his arm. “This can’t go on. To take the cat’ to a man’s back? And such ravings…?”

“’Tis just a squall – you know what the captain’s like without his rum.”

Davies shook his head. “He’s not been right since he drank from that infernal spring and you know it, Gibbs. He’s not fit to command a ship’s company, and if you’ll not take his place...”

“That I won’t do. Not to Jack.”

“I understand,” Davies said. “But you must understand that the men won’t serve beneath him no longer. We must have a new captain.”

Gibbs pulled his arm from Davies’ grip. “Do what you must, but I’ll play no part in mutiny.”

“You know I take no pleasure in this,” Davies said. “Nor none of the men. Captain Sparrow’s been good to us, but this madness must end. We’ll put him ashore soon as we can. Tortuga or—”

“No.” Gibbs glanced over at the captain’s cabin, a thought entering his mind; a glimmer of hope in this devilish darkness. “I’ll take no hand in this, Davies, but if you ever loved your captain, do him this favour; put him ashore in Shipwreck Cove. Take this matter before the King and have her rule on it.”

Davies’ eyes widened. “But that’s near enough six months sail.”

“If you put Jack ashore in Tortuga, or any place else, he’ll be dead in a month, from the rum or by his own hand. Mark me on that.”

“And in Shipwreck Cove?”

Gibbs could feel the dice spinning and knew the odds were long. “He has friends there, or what passes for them in this world. If anyone can help him, it’s Captain Swann.”

~~~


Continued in Chapter Three.
Tags: potc fic
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