Davy Jones roared his fury like a storm lashing the cliffs. Everyone – everything in the deep – cringed in terror of that inhuman rage. But they partook of it too, breathed it in lieu of air, ingested it in lieu of food. In the Locker, rage was all that sustained you, the only thing that eased the shredding claws of the cat upon your back, muted the horror of the hempen collar stretching your neck. The only thing that eased the agony of betrayal.
Be warned, love, the deepest circle of Hell is reserved for betrayers and mutineers. And I’ll be there, waiting for you…
The thought was out before he could stop it. And, as always, Davy Jones came in its wake, his inhuman eyes fixed on Jack with eager cruelty. “Would you like to see her burn, Jack? Would you like to see her skin peel from her flesh? Those lips – ah, those traitorous lips, Jack – would you like to see them beg for your mercy?”
“No…” But denial was futile; the images came anyway, his darkest imaginings laid bare. Sometimes she was shackled to the mast, screaming as monstrous teeth tore her apart. Other times she burned, or was drowned, was sliced to pieces by a blade, or hung from the yardarm with her face swollen and legs twitching. And every time her eyes were on him; every time she sobbed for his mercy and he watched her die, unmoved.
“Ghastly,” Jones hissed, his stinking breath rolling over Jack like cold fog. “Peas in a pod, you and I, hmmm? Doomed for the sake of a backstabbing, faithless wench.”
“Doomed myself,” he insisted – always insisted.
“Did ye now? And here was me thinking…”
“…here was me thinking it was…”
“…here was me thinking it was her.”
Soft lips fell on his – heated, passionate, unexpected. He stumbled back, heart racing – oh yes, racing and touched, touched terrifyingly deep. Her body was firm and strong, insistent against his; life was turning upside down in the space between heartbeats and he didn’t care. He welcomed it! Embraced it. For what was a mere ship, to this? What was life to this? His black soul soared because she lov—
The click of a lock and the rasp of metal against his wrist gave him the lie. And the terrible truth.
“I’m not sorry,” she hissed against his mouth, twisting the blade deep. Cruel, cruel girl.
He watched her leave with a smile on his lips. It was all he had left in the end. Everything else was dead.
Davy Jones laughed, cold as the crushing depths. “Cunning Jack Sparrow, played for a fool by a child.” He peered closer. “Oh but it burns, don’t it? Worse than the cat upon raw flesh, hmmm? Knowing that she despises you. Betrayed you. Left you to my tender mercies without a regret. And you thought, you dared to think, that she—”
“Oh shut up, is it? Very droll, Jack Sparrow. Very amusing.” A tentacle snaked about his neck, yanking him close to that monstrous face. “This is all there is now, Jack. Forever. All that pain, all that suffering. Yours. Unless…” He pulled back his shirt, revealing a raw, weeping scar across his chest. “And then the pain is gone. It’s all gone, Jack…”
He recoiled. “I think not.”
“Oh…but you will.”
“Eternity’s a long time, Jack. A long time to watch her walking away, damning you with her Judas kiss. Abandoning you. One day, Jack, you won’t be able to stand the pain any longer, you’ll beg me to…”
Something tugged at his mind, a flash of clear blue skies and a fierce sun. And for an instant he could see it – a vast expanse of white sands and nothing. Nothing as far as the eye could see, nothing but a hot lingering death. And then it was gone and the cold flooded in as if his soul had been scuppered.
Davy Jones stirred at the intrusion, wrathful. Vengeful. His head shifted, tentacles drifting in the still water. Suspicious. “What is this…?”
Jack… A whisper, a lilting call. Hear me, Jack Sparrow. A voice from his past, from his life. But real, or imagined? Another trick of the Devil? Leave de ocean an’ breathe de air again…
He tried, chest heaving like a drowning man.
Feel de sun upon your face, taste de salt of de sea…
Water filled his lungs. He coughed, choked, brought unrecognisable hands to his face and shrank from the monstrosity he had become. Icy water clogged his chest, drowning him, damning him.
Bloody well can’t! he cursed silently, falling, falling into the black.
Jack Sparrow know what he want, but he must claim it for his own…
“You will not take him, woman!” Fury boiled the water, smashing Jack like flotsam in the breakers. But there was a light, faint and distant, like sunshine from twenty fathoms. If he could just touch it… He lifted a barnacled hand, broke it away from the clutch of the Locker, and stretched up.
“There is no escape from the Locker.” Jones surrounded him, enfolded him with the weight of the ocean itself, but far above the light still shone. Jack reached for it and suddenly his fingers touched warm flesh. A hand. A slender hand, strong as iron, grasped his dead fingers and—
He was standing on a beach, compass in hand. The transition was so sudden that, for a moment, he was unable to move at all. Another dream, perhaps? Another trick of his dead mind? He waited, breathless, for the crushing embrace of the depths once more.
But nothing happened. Nothing at all. Experimentally, he took a breath. Warm air filled his lungs, caressing his lips like the sweetest of kisses. He let his gaze travel down the length of his arms, his body. All in one piece, more or less. All dry. And warm. Actually, getting hot. He squinted up at the vast blue sky and resisted the urge to triumph; Hell had many circles, after all. Instead he turned slowly around, his boots sinking into the soft sand.
Dunes rolled into the distance, breaking against the skirts of the mountain that dominated this strange island. A dusting of tufted grass coloured its feet and its top was lost in a rolling mist. He shivered and looked away, turning back to the familiar lapping of water against the shore, the only sound in the world.
At last, reluctantly, he looked down at the compass he held. Inevitably, the needle was spinning. He snapped it shut, the sound swallowed by the surf, and eyed the horizon from beneath his hat. Not a sail is sight, in any direction. He was, unequivocally, alone. Slipping the compass into his pocket he did another slow turn, trying to divine – if it were possible – in which direction to start walking. He was by no means convinced he’d escaped Jones’s clutches, but Captain Jack Sparrow had never been a man to sit and wait for chance to throw the dice. At least, not when he had a choice. And so he would walk, be there the Devil to pay and no hot pitch.
He chose his direction – toward the mountain – and set out, feet slip-sliding on the dry sand. His mouth burned for a taste of fresh water and he twisted out a smile at the irony. Cresting the first dune he paused to look out across the rippling white sands toward his craggy destination. Was that movement he saw on its terraced slopes? Or another trick of his mind? He blinked and the image was gone. With a shake of his head he took another step, only to be stopped again – this time by a noise; for a moment the whip of the wind across the dunes sounded like the snap of a sail, the clatter of rigging against a mast. He glanced over his shoulder, but the ocean was barren. Not even a bird skimmed its glittering surface. Irritated, Jack plunged half-walking, half-running down the dune and on toward the mountain.
But his madness, if that’s what it was, pursued him still. Ought not to be a surprise; there were those who’d called him mad while he lived, how much madder would death make a man? And yet... And yet, by whatever blood he had left in his heart, he heard the winsome creak and moan of a ship, the jangle of the rigging, the flutter of a sail. He stopped, turned again, and wished for a drop of grog to moisten his tongue.
And then he saw it; a bright white light on the horizon, running fast for land. Quickly it resolved itself into a ship, and either the sun had touched his mind or he was three sheets to the wind, because the ship – a Cutter – was barely touching the water as it flew across the ocean, sails wide as though a fierce wind was abaft the beam.
Cursed, was his first thought. Cursed ship of the damned. But this was not the Dutchman, this was – he squinted through the sunlight – this was the HMS Defiant. Naval Cutter, then. He took a step back and almost lost his footing. “Beckett?” Pursuing an honest pirate all the way to Hell seemed a tad beyond the call of duty. Even for him.
The Defiant was slowing, turning into the invisible wind and dropping sail. But not fast enough. She was going to run aground, hard and fast. Jack scrambled backward, pulling his pistol from his belt and waving g it in the general direction of the ship’s guns, wondering all the while if he’d be better off putting it to his own head and ending this once and for all. “’Cept I’m already dead.” He considered the point. “I think.”
With a spray of sand the Defiant ploughed across the dunes, grinding to a creaking halt not ten yards from where Jack stood. Had the situation been less absurd he might have wondered why she didn’t overset, but as it was his attention was somewhat fixed upon the deck.
The crew scuttling about were…familiar. Another convulsion of his fading sanity, perhaps? But, so help him, he thought he recognised… “Gibbs!”
“Aye, sir!” The man’s grin was as wide as Jack had ever seen it. “I know what you’ll be thinking, Captain, and before ye say it I just want to make one point; they’re more like guidelines.”
Jack blinked, cocked his head, and said, “I was going to comment, Mr. Gibbs, on the fact that you have a very nice boat, but seem somewhat devoid of ocean upon which to sail her.”
“Aye,” the man agreed, “that we are.” And then he disappeared from the rail and was replaced by another face; one Jack had never thought to see again this side of the grave. Anyside of the grave.
He raised his pistol and held it level. “Barbossa.”
“I thought you were dead.”
Barbossa lifted his chin. “The same could be said of you, Jack Sparrow.”
“Captain Jack Sparrow. And I’m not entirely certain that I’m not. Dead, as it were.”
“Aye, there be a little bit of death in us all.” Barbossa grinned widely. “And if you tarry much longer upon that haunted isle, it’ll be more of death than life for you.” He gestured to someone out of sight. “Lower a rope and get ready to make sail as soon as the witch gives the word!”
The witch? He had a vague memory, shrouded in darkness, of that place with its crushing despair and rage. He shivered as a rope snaked down from the deck to curl at his feet, hanging in the still air. Jack made no move to touch it. “I may be dead, but I’m no fool, Barbossa. Twice I’ve sailed with you, twice you’ve betrayed me. Why should I do so again?”
The captain leaned down, his grin nothing more than a leer as the wretched monkey skittered over his shoulder. “I’d say go to Hell, but you’re already at its door, Jack. Come aboard, don’t come aboard. I care not. But…” His eye held a cunning gleam. “I have something that you want, Jack Sparrow.”
“And what might that be?”
Barbossa’s grin grew positively wicked, but he didn’t answer. He didn’t need to, because in his pocket Jack could feel the compass spin. So, she was there too – his doom, his salvation. The curse of his life.
He hesitated, scanning the deck but finding no sign of her. His lips still burned from the heat of her traitor’s kiss and he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to see the wench again. He wasn’t sure he could bear not to see her again, and cursed himself for a fool. To be so vexed by a woman! And such a woman as her to boot, more scratching cat than playful kitten.
On deck, Barbossa shrugged at the delay. “Very well, I thank ye, Jack, for sparing me the trouble of killing ye later. Rest assured, the Pearl will be in good hands. Mr Gibbs! Send the top men to loose the sails; man the yards; stretch along the topsail sheets…”
“Wait. The Pearl?” Next to him, the rope began to slither back up to the ship. “You didn’t say anything about the bloody Pearl!” He jumped for the rope, missed, jumped again and landed, sprawled, in the sand. “Wait!”
Barbossa’s face appeared at the rail once more. “Time and tide, Jack. Be you coming aboard, or not?”
Climbing to his feet, retrieving his hat, and as much dignity as he could salvage, Jack gestured to the rope hovering out of reach above him. “If you’d be so kind, Captain Barbossa, as to take me to my ship – that would be the Pearl, in case of any confusion – I’d be much indebted.”
“Aye,” Barbossa agreed. “That you would.” He fixed Jack with a sharp look and then, at a slight nod of his head, the rope curled back down. Without dropping Barbossa’s gaze, Jack wrapped the rope twice about his wrist and held on. With a jerk he was lifted through the air and swung aboard.
His sword was drawn before his feet touched the deck.
Elizabeth watched from the shadows as Jack landed lightly aboard the Defiant. Her heart was beating an irregular tattoo and she told herself it was fear, not anticipation, that made her palms sweat.
He looked so alive. So vital. So human. After the glimpse she’d had of him in the deep, her soul had all but shrivelled. Only Tia Dalma’s insistence that all was not lost had kept her wits intact, and now here he was – Jack Sparrow once more. Captain Jack Sparrow. Hat, and all.
She ached to touch him, to replace their last embrace with an honest one. To find absolution in his smile. But she held back, dreading the moment her guilt was revealed. Dreading what she might see in those dark eyes of his.
“Welcome aboard, Captain Sparrow.” Barbossa greeted him with a flourish of his feathered hat and a nod toward Jack’s sword. “You’ll not be needing that.”
Jack had his back to her, and though she longed to see his face she dared not stir from her position, half hidden behind Tia Dalma. “Tell me one thing,” Jack said, swaying a little; an uneasy, unpredictable motion. “Are we all dead?”
Barbossa didn’t answer, and Elizabeth’s heart almost jumped into her throat when Tia Dalma spoke in his place. “You are, Jack Sparrow,” she said, drawing his attention. “’Till we pass beyond de World’s End once more.”
Slowly Jack turned around and Elizabeth’s stomach fluttered at the sight of his familiar, once lost, features. Relief, she told herself. Nothing more. Relief to see him alive. His roving gaze fixed on the witch woman with a certain, smiling alarm, “Tia Dalma – thought you had vowed never to leave your…” - he fluttered his fingers nervously - “…lovely little swamp, again?”
She inclined her head. “Only for you, Captain Sparrow.”
He sketched an uncertain bow. “Then… I am in your debt?”
“No debt,” Tia Dalma assured him, strolling closer and trailing a finger over his cheek. “How can de world turn wit’out Jack Sparrow, hmm? Besides, others brought me here. Wit’out deir sorrow, I’d be mourning you alone.”
“Oh.” He shrugged off her words and offered a hopeful smile. “Well, at least someone missed me.”
“Like de sunshine herself,” she smiled. And for an instant Elizabeth saw something warm pass between them, a memory shared perhaps, and she felt a cold flush of envy. Ridiculous envy. She’d be a fool indeed to covet Jack Sparrow.
His eyes narrowed abruptly and he nodded over his shoulder, toward Barbossa. “I suppose you’re responsible for him too?”
“It were de only way.”
“Yes, but why him? Were there no other dead, cursed pirates you could have—?” His voice cut off like a broken blade. He had seen her.
Elizabeth’s breath hitched as his eyes locked on hers, as impenetrable as a moonless night. She was peripherally aware of Tia Dalma taking a step back, revealing her to him fully, but all Elizabeth could really see was Jack – alive, breathing, and so close she could almost taste him on the breeze. His gaze dipped from her eyes to linger for a long, thoughtful moment on her lips, before ranging the length of her body in a frank appraisal that was more challenge than admiration. She refused to be intimidated, however, and stood tall beneath his scrutiny. “Nice company you’ve been keeping, Elizabeth,” he said at last, his devilish smile too brittle to be casual. “I imaging you and Barbossa must have had a lot to talk about during the long voyage, eh? A lot in common so to speak.”
She lifted her chin against the accusation. “Do not compare—”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, darling.” He smiled, glittering and dangerous. “You’re nothing alike. Barbossa’s a scabrous dog to be sure, but he at least has the virtue of honest treachery.”
And there it was: the truth. A murmur rippled through the crew, but no one spoke. No one, it seemed, breathed in the hot, still air. “You left me no choice,” she said, making her voice loud enough to carry. “You would have condemned us all had I not—”
“Condemned me first?” He dismissed her words with a phlegmatic shrug. “You did what was right by you, love. Can’t argue with that.”
“Then?” Hope stirred, a hope she had barely permitted herself to feel since the moment she’d abandoned him to his doom. “Then you forgive me?”
His black eyes danced, sharp as the blade he carried. “Nothing to forgive. One pirate to another, so to speak. Take what you can, and give nothing back.”
“It wasn’t like that.” She took a step forward, half-reaching for him. “I would have—”
He drew back, sword raised warningly between them. “Close enough.” Something harsh flickered across his face, like gold glinting at the bottom of the ocean. Indistinct, impossible to reach. A treasure, lost forever. “Close enough, savvy?”
“Jack, if there’d been another way, I—”
But he wasn’t interested. Turning on his heel, he sheathed his sword with a flourish and strode away, trailing his crew like an entourage until she was alone. Almost alone.
Tia Dalma’s warm breath tickled her ear. “Leave him to him vexation, he’ll have need enough of you later.”
Elizabeth turned to regard the witch and saw something like pity in her wild features. She shivered in the heat, jaw working for a moment before she could form the words. “He…hates me.”
“Hate? Is dat what you see in de shadowy eyes of Jack Sparrow?”
“What else? He obviously wants nothing to do with me.”
Tia Dalma cocked her head, as if to see Elizabeth better in the glaring sun. “What you see in him eyes is fear.” She rolled the word from her tongue like a purr.
“Do you ’tink de Captain know no fear?”
“Of me? I think it’s rather unlikely.”
Tia smiled, a strange curling of her inky lips. “You send him to Hell, Elizabet’ Swann.”
“Well, I’m hardly the first person to try that.”
“De first to succeed though, hmm? De first to disarm witty Jack Sparrow.” She drew closer, her breath scented with rum and spice and magic. “What arts did you employ that make ’im so a’feared?”
She couldn’t answer and looked away, her gaze falling inevitably on Jack. He was alone at the ship’s rail now, despite the bustle of the crew all around, alone as he gazed across the vast nothingness they had traversed to save him. It was only then that Elizabeth realised they were moving once more, that the sails were taut in the supernatural breeze, and the ship sighed and creaked beneath her feet. “No arts,” she said quietly. “No trick he would not employ himself, should an opportune moment arise.”
Tia Dalma made an irritated noise deep in her throat. “In de far distant East, dey say, a man pipe a tune dat charm de snake. Jack Sparrow fear de tune you play, fear it like de Devil his self.”
“I play no tune, I—”
“Do you not see?” Tia Dalma whispered, her hand raised as if clutching something invisible in her clawed fingers. “You hold him heart in your hand, girl. Him heart.” Her fingers closed in a swift crushing gesture. “Dat is why he fear you.”
“No.” Elizabeth’s stomach lurched, palpably lurched, and her eyes flew back to him. He cut an outlandish silhouette against the white sands, hair and coat drifting in the ghostly breeze, everything else still as stone. Dead, by her hand. Betrayed, by her hand. Bad enough that he had died, but if he had harboured some softer feeling for her…? If his heart had been touched and she had betrayed that too, then…? It was intolerable; it simply could not be true. “You’re wrong,” she insisted. “Jack Sparrow cares for no one but himself.”
Tia Dalma’s lips curled into a smile. “So he would have de wide world believe.”
“He left us first,” she pressed. “He abandoned the Pearl, his crew. All of us! He left us to die in his place.”
“Did he now?” Tia jutted her face close to Elizabeth’s, her eyes full of challenge. “Den why did he return, hmm? For him doomed Pearl? Or for somet’ing more precious?”
Elizabeth stared, refusing to accept the witch’s implication. “He— He must have seen we were in trouble, he must have—”
“Fate call him,” Tia whispered. “And she wear your face, Elizabet’ Swann. She wear your face.”
Jack had felt the gaze on his back for some time before he bothered to speak, hoping the whelp would drift away and lick his wounds elsewhere. It was not to be, unfortunately, and at last, growing tired of the tingling in his spine, he sighed and said, “Something vexing you, William?”
There was no immediate answer, but he heard Will’s feet hit the deck and the sound of slow footsteps as Turner came to join him at the rail. The boy said nothing, just gazed out across the white sands, his face less youthful than Jack remembered. More troubled. Definitely troubled. “You accused Elizabeth of betrayal,” he said eventually. “What did you mean?”
Jack smiled slightly. “So she didn’t tell you the tale, eh?”
“She won’t speak about that day,” Will sighed. “She said nothing, other than that you elected to stay behind on the Pearl. To give us a chance.”
“Is that what she said? Clever girl. Clever pirate.”
To Jack’s surprise, Will didn’t protest the epithet. “I know there’s more to it than that,” he said quietly. “She was—” It was his turn to smile, but it was bitter as pomegranate. “Her grief was most eloquent.”
“Grief?” Jack mulled the idea over, but didn’t like the weight of it in his heart. No room for such dangerous trifles now; he had learned his lesson at last – trust no one. It was a lesson he ought to have learned a score of years since, as he watched his beloved Pearl sail over the horizon with Barbossa at the helm. Yet Elizabeth Swann had still managed to bamboozle him, with her quick mouth and proud eyes. But not again, never again. He turned around, rested his elbows on the rail, and cast a sideways glance at Will. “Not grief, mate. Guilt.”
Will fixed him with a hard look. “Guilt at what?”
“Her heinous act of betrayal, what else?”
“Betrayal of whom?”
Jack didn’t miss the aggression in that quiet voice and took a cautionary step back, cocking his head. “If memory serves,” he said, twirling the fingers of one hand to distract Will from the fact that his other was resting lightly on the hilt of his sword, “I was the only one shackled to the mast when the beastie came a’calling.”
“Shackled?” Will’s brows lifted in genuine surprise. “Then you didn’t elect to—?”
“Shhh!” He glanced around at the rest of the crew. “Let’s keep that between you and me, shall we? Our little secret. What do you say?”
“I might have known you’d never be that— But if you were no hero, then why did she…?” Will’s lips pressed together and he looked away, but not before Jack had seen a flicker of doubt in his eyes. A flicker of trouble. But whatever vexed young William, he appeared to have no wish to speak of it. Which was fortunate, because Jack had no wish to hear of it. He did, however, have a great wish for rum.
He looked away from the boy, out across deck and, as the Devil would have it, found his eyes caught by the cause of all the hoo-ha. Elizabeth Swann sat, cross legged, on the quarterdeck, staring straight ahead. Her hair was stirred by the infernal breeze, the sunlight burnishing it gold – gold, like cursed Aztec treasure. Determinedly, he looked away. “I don’t suppose you thought to bring a drop of rum aboard with you?”
Will cast him a withering look. “It wasn’t top of our list of priorities, no.”
“I shall have to have words with Mr. Gibbs.” He glanced back at Elizabeth. “Your dearly beloved has a partiality for rum, I’m surprised she didn’t insist—”
“Not mine, not any more,” Will said morosely. “As I think you well know.”
“Me? I’ve been a little out of touch these past…” He realised he had no idea how much time he’d lost. “How long’s it been, anyway?”
“Some weeks,” Will said distractedly. “And I think you knew before…before you...”
“…were consumed alive by a ravenous monster of the deep?”
Will said nothing. With a sigh, Jack turned back around, gazing off at the distant horizon. “If it’s advice on affairs of the heart you’re after, you’d be better off talking to Davy Jones himself. My heart doesn’t even beat anymore.” He pulled back his coat. “See?”
“It’s not advice, it’s…” Will’s mouth twisted into a sour line, accusation darkening his eyes. And anger too, a terrible cold anger that sent a shiver of recognition along Jack’s spine. “She loves you,” he said, snapping the words like the crack of the cat.
Jack would have laughed had there not been something in the boy’s face that unnerved him. That, and the fact that his accusation was so exquisitely ironic. He settled for a wary smile. “Just to be sure there’s no misunderstanding here, you’re talking about Elizabeth Swann? Your betrothed? The woman sailing the high seas to save you from certain doom?”
“The reason I ask,” Jack said, taking a swaying, cautious step away from the boy, “is that she’s the very lass who has most recently – and successfully – tried to kill me.”
Will didn’t soften. “I saw,” he said, closing on Jack with a lethal grace that was new. Born of all that rage, perhaps. “I saw you— I saw her kiss you.”
Jack let the moment drift, then said, “Oh.”
His fluttering fingers picked at Will’s coat, brushing the edges, settling him down. “What you saw, dear William, was a distraction. An act of a piracy, no less.” He smiled, although he felt little humour at the admission. “What you saw was a Judas kiss. A betrayal. How else did you think a slip of a girl could shackle Captain Jack Sparrow? Her skill with a sword” – he resisted the temptation to leer – “is not so polished as you might imagine.”
Will ignored the jibe, saying instead, “And I suppose you didn’t think twice about accepting the attentions of a woman betrothed to another man?”
“One word, mate: pirate.”
With a sigh, Will shook his head. “So you say it was all innocent? A ploy on her part to ensure our escape.”
“Innocent?” There was no innocence in that kiss, just raw desire and betrayal. A pirate’s kiss. He flashed a smile. “As the new driven snow, mate.”
“And why should I believe you?”
Jack pressed a hand to his still heart. “Dead men tell no lies.”
“Tales,” Will corrected heavily. “Dead men tell no tales.”
“Those neither,” Jack agreed, glancing once more at the golden-haired Siren sunning herself on the deck. “But if you don’t believe me – and why should you? – I suggest you scamper over to yon lass and ask her yourself.”
Will looked around, and the moment he did so Elizabeth’s head turned in his direction. Their eyes met in a fashion that left Jack feeling markedly queasy. After a moment Will quietly said, “No doubt she wonders what we’ve been discussing.”
“No doubt she knows, mate.” Over Will’s shoulder Jack caught a glimpse of Tia Dalma, smiling and inclining her head to him in invitation. Fortuitous timing. He returned his attention briefly to Will. “Old Jack has come to no harm, and the truth’s flapping about like a basket of cod on the deck. This might be an opportune moment to set things aright, don’t you think?” Undeterred by Will’s silent response, Jack clapped him on the arm – “Good. Carry on” – and beat a hasty exit.
The sweet reunion of young love was the last thing he wanted to witness in such a dreadful state of sobriety, but he couldn’t help feeling himself caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea as he sauntered over to the swamp witch. That she was here – wherever here was – boded ill; Jack had made a point of never owing a debt to Tia Dalma, and now, it seemed, he owed her his life.
“Come,” she said as he approached. “It is time.”
“Time? And what would it be time for, exactly?”
She didn’t answer, just took his arm in hers and led him toward the ship’s bow. The dunes continued ahead, and to port lay the flat empty ocean, while to starboard rose the island’s peculiar mountain. Its misty summit shifted, impenetrable yet compelling, and he found himself entranced by its softly drifting rainbows, enticing in their—
“Look away,” Tia Dalma hissed, grabbing his chin in her strong fingers and snapping his head toward her. “Do not look upon it, lest you wish to start de climb, Jack Sparrow.”
“To de top.”
“And what’s at the top?”
“Death,” she said with a enigmatic smile. “Life. All dat a man want.”
“All I want,” he said, “is the Pearl.”
“Is dat so?”
Ignoring her disbelieving smile, Jack nodded out over the sands. “Can’t help but notice that we’re somewhat in the shallows here, and the Pearl is deep in the draft so perhaps we should—”
“Shh,” she placed a finger over his lips. “Look…” Turning, she pointed ahead, over the glittering dunes. At first he saw nothing, but slowly, little by little, he began to make out dark shapes; the bowsprit stuck out from the sand at an odd angle, the foremast behind it, but nothing between. The main- and mizzen-masts were there too, the yards not damaged, though half their lengths were buried in the sand. The quarterdeck was lost, but he could just see the top of the ship’s wheel spiking through the dunes with a defiance he admired, even as it broke his heart.
“Not good,” he said quietly, stepping closer to the railing. “Not good at all.”
Beneath his feet he felt the Cutter coast, heard her sails flap, and behind him he felt the presence of others, the whole crew perhaps, coming to stare at the bones of his beloved. He turned a burning eye on Tia Dalma. “Is this all?”
“Captain Jack Sparrow go down with him Pearl,” she said, her quiet voice carrying over the distant hiss of the surf. “And so it follow dat he must return wit’ her too.”
Jack’s gaze travelled back to his wrecked ship. “There’s nothing left of her.”
“Go,” Tia Dalma said, nodding towards the sands. “Go to her. Breathe de air again, Jack Sparrow…”
He cast her a quick look, those words triggering memory like a shadow, making him shiver. There was no going back, not to that place. Without a word he jumped up onto the ship’s rail, found his balance and paused. Behind him he heard a soft gasp, knew it for Elizabeth’s, and pushed it from his mind. He had room for only one lady in his heart; one who would never forsake him, never betray him. One who promised him freedom. He closed his eyes, lifted his arms and let himself fall…
“Jack!” Elizabeth darted forward, too late. He was gone.
En mass the crew rushed to the rail and Elizabeth expected to see him sprawled face-first in the sand, but there was no sign of him at all. Not even a footprint.
“Captain Sparrow?” Gibbs called, doing what she could not with Will hovering at her side. But there was no answer.
“Where’s he gone?” she asked Tia Dalma, pushing through the men toward the witch. “What happened?”
The woman was chuckling to herself. “World’s End,” she said cryptically, then lifted a finger and pointed to the remains of the Pearl. “Look.”
Elizabeth’s gasp of surprise was echoed by the rest of the crew as she saw Jack, black coat flapping, standing not a yard from his ship. He seemed oblivious to their presence.
“What’s he doing?” Will asked, close to her ear.
Elizabeth didn’t answer, just watched as Jack stepped carefully onto the buried wreck. He stopped, looking about him as if trying to remember where he was. After a moment he headed aft, slowing and pausing by the mainmast. His hand rose and almost touched its weathered wood, but he stopped at the last moment. Guilt rose sour in Elizabeth’s throat as he looked up at her, and even at such a distance it seemed she could feel the burn of his gaze. She refused to look away, however, despite Will’s plucking touch on her sleeve.
In the end it was Jack who moved on, leaving the mast and heading up the soft slope of sand to where the top of the ship’s wheel poked through. He crouched next to it, adjusting the angle of his hat, and for a moment did nothing else. Then, slow and deliberate, he reached out and seized the wheel.
A subterranean detonation rippled through the sand, shaking the rigging and sending the crew to crossing themselves and spitting. At her side, Tia Dalma smiled. “And so it begin.”
Elizabeth glanced up at Will, but he just shrugged.
Jack was on his feet now and the sand was moving around him as if a stiff wind whisked across its surface, whipping it up in clouds. She felt the sting of it in her eyes and raised a hand to shield them. Through the dust storm she watched Jack’s dark figure striding back along the length of the Pearl until he reached the foremast. He sprang up the rigging and stood on the top yard, feet braced and one hand on the mast. Beneath him, the ground began to shake. Elizabeth could feel it through her shoes. Sand undulated, writhing and twisting in the strengthening wind. A real wind that tore at her hair and clothes, snatching the breath from her lips as she shouted, “She’s moving!”
Will’s fingers gripped her arm tight and together they watched the Pearl rise, sand pouring like water from her seams. The mast became visible, the prow, the deck and at last the hull, whole and undamaged by the Kraken’s attack. The Black Pearl rested for a moment atop the dunes, rocking as if on a gentle sea, and through the clouds of sand Elizabeth struggled to see Jack, still proud at the very top of the foremast. She longed for him turn and look back at her, but he didn’t. He didn’t move at all, but the Pearl did. Without sail, she suddenly bucked forward and plunged over the waves of sand as though the Devil himself were after her. And perhaps he was.
Distantly Elizabeth heard Barbossa shouting orders, “All hands! Brace up the yards and haul aft the sheets; haul the bow-lines, set the jib and stay-sails, keep her full…” And then they were moving too, over the sand and through the wind. In pursuit.
“Come below!” Will shouted. “Elizabeth, come below, out of the storm. It’s too dangerous!”
She clutched the rail and would not let go, but the sand was blistering and she was forced to turn her head away and cover her eyes.
And then the sand softened, cooled, and turned to rain. She looked up and got a face full of spray for her trouble – sea spray! Above, the unnatural blue sky had turned low and thunderous, and beneath them – oh glory! – beneath them was the grey, thrashing ocean. “He’s doing it!” she shouted, her mouth a wide smile, heedless of the dark look in Will’s eyes. “Can’t you see? He’s bringing her back!”
Ahead of them the Pearl plunged through the maelstrom, pitching and rolling in the mammoth seas, but she would not go under. Like her Captain, she fought tooth and nail to return to the world of the living.
Continued in Chapter 3