Set between Dead Man's Chest and At World's End.
My thoughts are as dead things, wrecked and whirled
Round and round in a gulf of the sea
“The Triumph of Time” – A.C. Swinburne
There was dirt beneath her fingernails. It was deep, ingrained, and black as the stain upon her heart. Had she the luxury to spend all day soaking her hands in milk, still the grime would remain. It was part of her now. In her blood.
Elizabeth Swann’s fingers curled over the dark wood of the ship’s rail, pale beneath the dirt and tinged blue with cold. But she would not go below, she refused to seek comfort. What comfort did she deserve, when he had none? Instead she turned to take the full force of the biting wind in her face. The Defiant pitched forward and a cloud of spray blasted her skin, making her feel alive – oh, so treacherously alive – but not clean. Never clean again.
Behind her she could sense the crew going about their duties and occasionally her skin tingled as a gaze lingered on her back. What did they see? she wondered. Not the truth, and for that she was grateful. She knew enough to understand that her life depended on the lie; Captain Jack Sparrow had died a hero, and his loyal crew sailed to free him from a hell more terrible than Hades itself. It was a tale worthy of legend, a tale to be told a hundred years hence to wide-eyed children sitting warm by the fireside. A tale of adventure and courage and romance.
A tale built on a lie.
And a black hearted lie at that, the pain of which Elizabeth Swann bore alone. She could tell no one the truth, not even Will – especially not Will, for what did he know of betrayal? He walked in the sunlight, not the twilight world inhabited by the likes of Jack Sparrow – and now, it seemed, herself.
But if, by some dark miracle, Jack was returned to them, well, then Will would learn the truth. Then they would all learn the truth, and whether it meant cold steel to her throat, or a rope about her neck, she understood all too well that Jack’s salvation spelled her doom.
Captain Jack Sparrow did not forgive betrayal. Nor forget – not for a score of years, and more. And she had betrayed him thoroughly.
She closed her eyes against the memory, but it did little good. The motion of the ship and the sea spray on her face took her back to the deck of the Pearl, teetering on the brink of Hell. The wooden rail clutched in her fingers became metal shackles, warm skin, and rough wool over muscle. The bite of the wind against her lips became the startled zeal of his kiss…
Her eyes flew open and she let the wind dry the tears before they could fall. Ahead was nothing but bleak skies and wind tossed seas; her own heart laid bare before her. And somewhere, beneath it, lay Jack.
Her mind’s eye, she had discovered these past weeks, could paint a pretty picture. When she tried to sleep she would live those final moments again and again, his face indecipherable but his eyes hot as embers as he watched her abandon him to his fate. Sometimes she thought she saw admiration in their depths, other times anger and the promise of swift and bloody retribution. But worse than that, far worse than that, were the times when she saw pain hidden behind his arrogant self-possession. Those were the times when her throat thickened and when the other images came, unbidden, to her tormented mind; she imagined Jack standing alone and terrified on the deck of the Pearl, abandoned by his friends and bound, helpless, as the Kraken crushed his ship – his bones? – in its foul, demonic maw. She fancied she’d heard his screams that day, as the ship had sunk beneath the waves, and they haunted her nightly.
She had murdered Jack Sparrow. She had sent him to the deepest hell, one that would drown forever the fierce fire in his heart. There was irony there, if you looked. Where all the forces of the Devil and the King had failed, she, Elizabeth Swann, had rid the high seas of the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow. She, who would have fought to the death for his life, had given him over to the deep.
Pirate, he had called her. It seemed an insufficient epithet. What self-respecting pirate would chain her captain like a sacrificial lamb and send him to Hell without a sword in his hand? None that she knew of. None but her. None but—
A hand touched her arm, slender and firm, startling her from her thoughts. Tia Dalma met her look with a blue-toothed smile and eyes that knew too much. “De night come,” she said, nodding toward the glowering horizon as she pulled a flimsy coat tight about her shoulders. “Too cold to be thinking on him here.”
Elizabeth blinked. “I was…”
Tia stopped her with a hand on her wrist. “Below, where de wind don’t bite. Come. Drink some bumboo wit’ me, girl.”
With that she turned away and made her way awkwardly across the shifting deck. Elizabeth watched her for a moment, realising that the pitch and roll of the ship no longer bothered her. Sea legs, she thought with a bleakness she couldn’t overcome.
Pirate, said a more seductive voice.
Ignoring it, she followed Tia below. Barbosa’s cabin was aft, and Elizabeth wasn’t sure if that was why Tia Dalma had settled herself as far forward as possible, but either way Elizabeth was glad to avoid the unsettling presence of their erstwhile nemesis.
By the time she arrived, Tia was pouring drink into two cracked earthenware cups. With her back to a beam, she sat beneath the swinging hammock and offered a cup to Elizabeth. “Rum, wit’ a little something,” she said, a glitter in her eyes. “A little something special.”
Elizabeth sniffed at the brew, surprised to find the cup warm beneath her fingers. It was spicy, sweet and inviting, and she took a sip as she came to sit at Tia’s side. From the corner of her eye she could see the witch watching her, could feel her gaze slicing into the dark corners of her heart. Unsettled, Elizabeth closed her eyes and sipped at her drink in silence.
After a long while, Tia Dalma spoke. “Are you ready?” she said quietly, the words rolling with a lilt from her tongue. “Are you ready, Elizabet’ Swann?”
She considered her answer. Ready to fail? Ready to see Jack dead, forever, by her own hand? Or ready to succeed? Ready to meet his eye and have her treachery exposed to the world? She glanced at Tia and caught the diamond-hard glitter in the woman’s eye. Or, perhaps, ready to die? She swallowed a mouthful of spiced rum. “No,” she said, and it was at least an honest answer.
“You have a weight about your heart,” Tia nodded. “An’ if you don’t free yourself, it gonna drown you. It gonna drown you good.”
Elizabeth frowned. “I don’t know what you mean.”
At that Tia laughed. “I see it, girl.” She reached out a dirty hand toward Elizabeth’s chest. “I see it here. Heavy, so heavy.” Her fingers lifted to brush across Elizabeth’s eyes. “And here too.” Her head tipped to one side. “Treachery,” she whispered like the hiss of surf upon the beach. “Betrayal.”
Eyes wide, Elizabeth fought for a denial but her lips would not move. Her breath came in shallow gasps of shame, and fear.
Tia’s fingers still lingered on her face. “I see it.”
“I had no choice,” Elizabeth said, low and shaky.
“No,” Tia agreed. “De course is set, there be no turning now.”
She nodded, feeling the burn of tears behind her eyes. “I don’t expect…” She tried for a smile, but failed. “I know he cannot forgive me, and I’ll except whatever punishment—”
“Tsk!” Tia Dalma hissed, jabbing at her shoulder in irritation. “Punishment? You accept no punishment from the whelp. Your course is your own, not de boy’s.”
“But…? After what I did to him, he’ll have a right to… to…retribution. It’s the pirate way. Isn’t it?”
Tia cast her a curious look, her chin jutting out in question and her lips toying with a smile. “Tell me, do we talk of de boy, Turner? Or Captain Jack Sparrow?”
“Captain—” She stopped herself suddenly. “What do you mean, Will?”
Reaching for the bumboo, Tia chuckled. “De story twist around and around, eh?” She topped up her own cup, then offered more to Elizabeth. The spin in her head warned her to decline, but the warmth in her belly overrode caution and she nodded. As the rum filled the cup to the brim, Tia said, “I see piracy in your eyes, Elizabet’ Swann.”
“No.” But the denial sounded flat and she drowned it quickly with a swallow of bumboo.
Tia caught her eye and held it. “I see de Captain in your heart, and de boy…? He see it too.”
“He can’t…” A new pain constricted her chest, and she wasn’t sure if it was denial or protest. “It’s not true.”
Leaning closer, Tia Dalma sniffed the air, as if tasting it. “Betrayal,” she murmured again. “If not de boy, den who? De Captain?” Her head cocked. “Or both?”
Elizabeth closed her eyes. The rum was making everything spin and she put the cup down, feeling it slosh over her fingers. Both…? “I kissed him.” She shivered at the sound of the words out loud. “I kissed Jack. And I… God help me, but I wanted to. I kissed him and then…and then…” Her voice choked but the confession could not be stopped. “And then I killed him.”
A sharp hiss of breath between teeth was all she heard, and then silence. She sat listening to the creaking of the timbers, to the distant slap of water against the hull, but Tia did not answer. At last, when her muscles were starting to cramp with tension, Elizabeth pried open her eyes.
Tia was watching, her dark gaze sharp as a blade. All she said was, “He was not dead, when de Kraken take him.”
Elizabeth stared down at the rough blanket on which she sat, at the cracked cup half full of rum. At anything that wasn’t Tia Dalma. “I…shackled him to the mast. It was the only way. The Kraken wanted him and would have killed us all in the attempt had I not—”
The unexpected sound of Tia’s laughter cut her off. “He fight like a shark in de net, but de Fates won’t be cheated. Captain Jack Sparrow go down wit’ de Pearl – he have no choice.”
“I gave him no choice.”
Tia shrugged. “You? Or de Fates?” She peered closer. “But… perhaps you are his fate, Elizabet’ Swann?”
A sudden heat – the rum, perhaps? – rose to her cheeks. “What do you mean?”
“You betray de boy wit’ him. You betray his self to Davy Jones. What are you, Elizabet’ Swann? Doom, or salvation for Captain Jack Sparrow?”
Her fingers picked at a hole in the ragged breeches she wore and she forced out an uncomfortable laugh. “Can’t you tell? You’re the witch, after all.”
A lamp guttered and died nearby. Into the sudden gloom Tia Dalma whispered, “Both. I see both in your future. And in his. Doom and salvation.”
She looked up. “Both?”
Tia Dalma touched her face again, her fingers warm against Elizabeth’s cold skin. “De heart is true. Follow it, even on de most treacherous course, and it will always steer you right. Ignore it, fear it, hide from it, and you bring doom upon us all. Upon us all.”
The woman’s eyes were mesmerising, as deep and dark as Jack’s yet lacking any obfuscation. They saw and demanded the absolute truth, and Elizabeth could not hold that gaze for long. With a laugh devoid of humour, she returned her attention to her fingers, still toying with her frayed clothes. “What if I don’t understand my heart? What if I don’t know what…?” Into her mind flew a memory; Will’s lips upon hers, the safety and comfort of his embrace, his unwavering loyalty. Steadfast, until the end of days. “What if I don’t know what I want?”
Tia sipped at her rum. “Or who?”
Elizabeth shifted awkwardly, but didn’t bother attempting to deny the truth to this woman; Tia Dalma saw everything. She glanced up, a sudden thought reaching her lips. “Tell me,” she said. “Tell me what I want.”
“I tell you what I tell Jack his self.” Tia Dalma leaned closer, her voice dropping to a lilting whisper. “You know what you want, you just too afraid to claim it as your own.”
Elizabeth stared, and in her mind’s eye the compass spun, its needle settling to point relentlessly out to sea. To the distant horizon. “It’s not possible.”
“De heart know.”
“No.” She rose to her feet. “No, it’s not that simple. I can’t— I love Will. I’m marrying Will!” She laughed, a little wildly. “I should already be married to Will!”
“Den why are you not?”
“De Fates,” Tia said, her eyes glimmering in the low lamp light. “Dey will not be denied. You must sail de course, or founder on de rocks.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No,” she insisted. “I won’t except that. I am my own mistress! I do what I wish. I go where I wish. I marry who I wish! There is no fate, I am free to…to…I am free…”
You long for freedom… His voice was so clear she could almost feel his warm breath upon her neck. One day you won’t be able to resist.
“Yes,” Tia Dalma agreed, playing out the word like the hiss of a viper. “Dat is de truth. You long for freedom.”
“What?” She blinked. “What did you say?”
“You know,” Tia said with a cryptic smile. “You know your heart’s desire.”
“No.” She shook her head again. “No, I will not listen. I know my duty, I know my choice.” She backed away until her head struck a low beam close to the ladder. “I have already betrayed one good man, I will not betray another.”
Tia didn’t move from where she sat, and though her voice was low, Elizabeth could still hear every word. “Too late,” she said, head cocked as if listening to something beyond the ship. “Too late, girl. Dey are already betrayed. If you deny de truth now, you will doom dem both.”
Through the dim light she held Tia’s bright gaze a moment longer, then fled wordlessly up the ladder and onto the rolling deck. Fled from the witch and her all-knowing eyes, fled from the truth that beat painfully in her chest.
Night had fallen, the lamps were lit and their shadows danced like demons across the deck. Like the very demons of hell. Elizabeth kept to the dark corners. She had had her fill of doom and demons, and now sought the solace of the sea. A fat moon raced behind the clouds, occasionally crowning the choppy ocean with silver, and Elizabeth clung to the ship’s rail as if it were all that was left in the world.
The truth burned, but there was no denying it. She had betrayed them both, body and soul. Her treacherous heart had betrayed them all. Oh, how simple life would have been had she never met Captain Jack Sparrow…!
The thought buffeted her like a sudden squall, and in her heart something shifted. A truth owned, perhaps? A veil fallen. What if she had never met Captain Jack Sparrow? The truth – the harsh truth – was that she’d be long since dead, suffocated by her corsets, dragged down to the deep by her tangling skirts.
Jack Sparrow had saved her, he had cut her free and brought her back to life.
Brought her to life...
To this life of danger and wonder, of adventure and sorrow, of pain and joy. He had brought her here and she saw now that everything before this was death. Jack Sparrow had saved her, and until this moment she had never understood the half of it. Or, perhaps, she had hidden from it like a child in the night, clinging to the familiar against the wild world beyond. But no more. No more…
She lifted her chin and closed her eyes, seeking the wind in her hair as she leaned out over the rail. Captain Jack Sparrow had freed her, that was the heart of the truth from which she fled. He had freed her and now she would free him, she would bring him back to life. She would pay her debt.
The wind tore his name from her lips and cast it out over the waves, as if trying to reach Davy Jones’s Locker itself. She shouted again, louder this time to help the words on their way, “Captain Jack Sparrow!” Her lips curled into a smile, a wild defiant smile, as her heart raced like a ship running before a storm.
Let the witch say what she liked, Elizabeth Swann made her own fate. She would find Jack, she would pay her dues, and then – only then – would she make her choice. Because she was free. No man – nor woman, neither – would determine her fate. She let guilt and worry fall away and embraced her birthright; she was free!
Elizabeth laughed, a sudden barking sound that carried over the crash of the waves as she lifted her arms like a bird about to take flight. Into the teeth of the wind she yelled,
“We're rascals, scoundrels, villains, and knaves, Drink up, me hearties, Yo ho!”
Below decks, Tia Dalma smiled to herself and settled down to sleep. It would be her last chance, she knew, before fate overtook them all.
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