It is a wise father that knows his own child.
'The Merchant of Venice’
The boy’s mother had always been an eldritch creature – a nymph, dancing barefoot across the sands with her raven hair drifting in the breeze, fey and strange. Her faerie beauty had stolen the captain’s old heart and he’d brought her back to the Cove with the triumph of a man who’d captured something wild. And wild she’d remained, exploring the city’s labyrinthine passages with wide, inquisitive eyes and whispering to people Teague could not see – fantasies of her mind, perhaps. The wee folk, some said.
He never managed to tame her though, for all the love he lavished upon her. Even heavy with child she would disappear from his bed, from his life, for days on end, returning only when the wind blew her close once more.
When the boy came he was born in silence, his mother’s slight frame quivering with the effort of giving him life. She uttered not a sound until she held the wriggling scrap in her arms, and then she cried and kissed his face, whispering strange words – words Teague could not understand and which she would never explain.
A year later, she was gone. Not even her son could hold her in the Cove, and Teague mourned her loss every day, even as he raged against the capricious spirit that had stolen her away.
Perhaps another man might have taken comfort in the child, but Teague’s son was not disposed to bring comfort. Possessed of his mother’s unnatural beauty and fey temperament, he wandered the city as she had done, paying no heed to his father’s attempts at instruction. And the more Teague tried to govern his son, the more the boy took to regarding the world through darkening eyes; the pirate blood that ran in his veins was ill at ease with his mother’s propensity for strangeness.
At the age of twelve, Teague took him to sea. Time, he thought, to make a man of the boy. And at first it seemed successful; like his mother, Jack was born for the ocean. A water sprite, no less. The ship responded to his touch as though he were Davy Jones himself, and for the first time the boy’s rare smile was not fleeting. He scrambled in the rigging, navigated as if by instinct, and would oftentimes climb to the very tip of the bowsprit, his arms spread wide, as if soaring like a bird above the waves.
But he was not biddable. If his father ordered him to port, he’d veer to starboard; if he was ordered to the rigging, he’d squirrel away in the hold and not be seen until the stars pricked the sky. Aboard ship, there was no space to roam – no freedom, lest you be the captain – and the boy bridled against all restriction. In truth, Teague saw in him too much of his mother’s whimsical soul, and resolved to beat such nonsense from the boy’s pretty head for fear that he too would take flight one day and disappear forever.
By the time they made landfall, off the coast of what the Spaniards had named Puerto Rico, the boy was wild as a caged tiger. No sooner did his feet touch land than he was gone, disappearing into the untamed forest without a backward glance.
For three days Teague waited, the pain of the mother’s leaving making the son’s flight all the more bitter. In the end, he was forced to send the other lad to fetch him back – Enri, his lubberly son by the witch-woman of the village. Less than a year younger, he was as different to Jack as night from day; as solid as the land to which he clung and without a trace of salt in his veins. But he could track an animal a hundred miles, and Jack was soon found, skulking near the edge of the village in search of food.
Teague whipped him soundly upon his return, taking a switch to his back with his own hand. Captain Teague, Keeper of the Code, would not suffer such disobedience from his own son – from the child of the sprite who had stolen his heart. When he was done, anger coiled tight in his throat and brow beading with sweat, the boy rose to his feet and faced him. The contempt in those bruised eyes was not to be forgotten; in that moment, Teague knew he had lost the son as surely as he had lost the mother. And he would not permit it to be so.
When, some weeks later, the boy refused to sail home with him, Teague sent the bosun to drag him aboard. Jack put up a fight, but at twelve years old he could not win; the voyage back to the Cove was spent in the brig and in a black silence. The very moment the ship docked, he was gone. None saw him leave, and some crossed themselves and blamed kelpie magic; Teague saw the cell door swing on its hinge and blamed light, clever fingers on the lock.
He saw little of the boy in the years after that. Jack lived somewhere within the Cove, but took care to avoid his father. Teague heard stories, though, stories enough to darken his heart. His son had learned young that his face had the power to open any door, and to soften the hardest of hearts. As he grew toward manhood he learned of the more dangerous power his beauty bestowed – and exploited it with restless abandon. There was little he could not have for the asking.
Occasionally, in the Great Hall, Teague would catch Jack’s eye as he charmed another man’s wife – or another woman’s husband. And every time Teague was met with churlish defiance; truly, the devil’s eyes in the face of an angel.
On the day Teague arrived in his quarters to find Jack buried to the hilt in his own latest tumble, he knew matters had gone too far. He threw the boy out with a cuff about the ears and pondered his next move. But he was too slow – the very next day Jack announced that he was leaving the Cove. For good. Teague forbad it, of course. The son of the Keeper had much to learn; besides, without the protection of his father at the helm, the boy would fall easy prey to the frustrated lusts of men too long at sea. Knowing that words were hardly enough to restrain the boy, Teague called for his loyal first mate, Josiah Bartley, to haul Jack to the city’s brig until his ship had sailed.
Fool to trust the man – fool to trust anyone. Bartley sidled in, eyes darting between father and son; had Teague not known the man a score of years he might have been more suspicious. “To the brig with ‘im,” he growled. “And tie his bloody hands too.”
Jack smiled then, his damned insolent smile, and said, “He’s not going to be doing that, are you, mate? He’s coming with me.”
Teague remembered feeling a moment of incomprehension before he recognised the doe-eyed adoration in his first mate’s eyes. Jack trailed bejewelled fingers down the man’s chest, hooking them provocatively beneath Bartley’s belt as he flashed eyes full of promise at the besotted old goat. But the look he shot Teague was all rebellion and triumph. Beat that, he seemed to say.
Teague fully intended to do so, though he lived to regret his method. “I’ve raised no son to be a whore,” he growled, “but if that’s what you intend, Jackie, then so be it. Not here, though, and not with my name.” The boy wavered a little at that, defiance giving way to disbelief. “Go then, fly the nest. Whore yourself around the world, as did your mother, but never think to call me father, nor to look again for my protection on the seas.”
Milk-white now – with rage and shock – Jack had seemed younger than his scant seventeen years. But he did not back down. “I’ve never called you father,” he spat, “and I never will. Speak so of my mother again, and I will see you dead.”
And that was the last Teague saw or heard of his faerie-born son. Until today.
Six years later, as dawn crested the horizon, a ship had sailed into the Cove, gleaming white sails full-bellied in the wind and her hull black as pitch. From his cabin atop the chaos of the city, Teague had watched with a shiver of unease as she docked. There was something about her that spoke of Empire, not pirate – too pristine, entirely too shipshape. The Greek’s had been fine sailors too, after all. As a precaution, he’d sent men to the docks and an alert to all the Brethren ships in port.
A message soon arrived from the newcomer, a letter delivered by a wide-eyed man who knew more than he was willing to say.
Captain Teague, it read, There is unfinished business betwixt you and I that needs settling. By your leave, or without it, I will visit your quarters at midday. It was signed, Captain Jack Sparrow.
Jack Sparrow… Teague had little doubt who he was, though what business they could have together baffled him. He could not, however, quell a little pride that the boy had found himself such a fine ship. Perhaps he’d not turned out so bad after all…?
The man who rapped upon his door some time later, and who did not wait for an answer before he entered, was not the boy who had left six years earlier. Taller, broader, he now hid his delicate features behind a braided beard and dread-locked hair that hung to his shoulders, a blood red bandana swathing his forehead. His dress was smart – the boy had always been particular – and spoke of European fashions. But his eyes had lost none of their defiance; if anything they had grown ebony hard with it.
Teague dragged on the long-stemmed pipe he always carried and studied his son. No longer a boy, but what kind of a man? “Why d’you come back?”
“As I said, unfinished business.” Jack’s voice had grown gravelly, serious.
“I can think of no business between us.”
A hint of that fleeting smile. “Well, ’tis not in your Code, to be sure. And you always did lack imagination for anything beyond it, Captain.”
Teague let that pass and sucked again on his pipe. “See you have a ship.”
“I do.” And there was a glimmer of pride in his voice then, something Teague had never seen in his son. “Finest ship afloat, faster than anything—” He cut himself short. “None can match the Wench.”
“Ship like that makes a name for herself,” Teague mused. “Yet I’ve heard no stories.”
“You’ve heard no stories yet,” Jack corrected. “Rest assured, you will. And that, as it happens, relates to the business that brings me back to this feculent bilge of a city.”
“Does it now?”
Reaching into his pocket, Jack pulled out a short string of beads at the end of which glinted a tarnished piece of eight. “I’ve done with this,” he said in a low voice. “I want no part of it.”
Something heavy dropped in Teague’s chest; this, he had not expected. “Bloody fool,” he snarled. “Can’t give this up, ’tis your birthright.”
“Then I renounce it, as you renounced your son – Captain.” He held out the coin – one of the nine – but Teague refused to take it. With a shrug, Jack tossed it onto the nearby chart table. “Foist that useless bit of shine upon one of your other side-slips if you wish, but I wash my hands of this villainy.”
“Wash your hands of it, Jackie? Do you think it’s so easy? There’s pirate blood in your veins, it won’t be denied.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I’ve had me eyes opened, somewhat, these past years. I know, now, that men are born free; I’ll be no slave to destiny.”
Teague frowned. “Sounds like the nonsense talk of your brother.”
“Saved me life,” Jack said simply. “Him and his people. Showed me that it’s the sea in me blood, not larceny. I’ll no longer take what I can, just because I can.”
“As you took my first mate, eh?”
“And others.” He was silent a moment. “That life is over. From now on I intend to live by honest means.”
Teague went cold suddenly, the pipe stilling in his hand as he turned to gaze through his window at the sleek ship below. Pristine, well supplied – he should have bloody well known. “East India Company.” He spat the words, the slender stem of the pipe snapping in his clenching fist. “Beyond the pale, Jackie. Beyond the bloody pale.”
“’Tis where you drove me, eh?”
“No lad,” he growled, “’tis where you were bloody well born.”
“Then I should return, should I not?” Jack sketched a mocking bow. “I take my leave, Captain. Our ties are cut; do not expect to see me again.”
He’d taken two steps toward the door before Teague stopped him. “Wait.”
Jack halted, but did not turn around. Did not speak.
To his back, Teague said, “Your mother was a child of nature, without a suspicious bone in her body. There’s too much of her in you, boy. Be wary of it. Your new friends might not be all they seem.”
Jack stiffened. “I’ll take my chances.”
“Aye, you will.” Teague walked to the mosaic table and picked up the legacy Jack had abandoned there. “This is yours, son. Leave it here if you choose, but when the song is sung, you will return.”
“I’d rather go to the Locker.”
The words hung heavily between them. Teague shivered and for a moment thought he could detect the blossom-scent of Jack’s mother in the room. The thought drew his eye to the small casket he kept upon the table. Opening it, he fingered the piece of blue and gold shine he’d once worn in his hair – a gift from her. Some lost trinket, no doubt, washed ashore and dug from the sand by her slender fingers. Flotsam, like their son.
Teague looked up and found Jack watching him as he turned the bit o’ shine over in his fingers. He made the decision on impulse and with a flick of his wrist tossed the bauble through the air.
Jack caught it without taking his eyes from Teague’s. “What is it?”
“Your mother’s. And now yours. Perhaps it’ll bring you luck.”
“Brought her little enough,” Jack said, though he pocketed the trinket quickly. He cast Teague a hard look. “I owe you nothing.”
“Except, perhaps, for this lesson: trust no one – take what you can, and give nothing back.”
A small shake of his head, a sardonic glimpse of a smile. “’Tis a lesson I intend to ignore, then. For I want none of it.” He pressed his hands together and bobbed a short bow. “We’ll not meet again.” And with a flurry of coat and quick steps he was gone.
Teague didn’t move for a while, contemplating the piece of eight he held in his fingers. Jackie Teague – Jack Sparrow, now – would be back; he felt it in his aged bones. Destiny had marked the boy since before he was born and had plotted him a treacherous course. One day, Teague knew, that course would return him to Shipwreck Cove to reclaim the legacy he so despised.
Wilful, insubordinate, and fey as his mother, he’d not last a month under the fist of Empire. And as he watched the Wench unfurl her sails, bound for the distant horizon, he could not shake the feeling that she sailed toward calamity.
“Godspeed, Jackie,” he murmured softly. “And take what you can, my boy. Take what you can.”
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. I'll be posting the longer story, for which this is back story, next week. :)