When Elizabeth’s eyes closed and she fell back onto the rugs next to Jack, Enri’s mother rose stiffly to her feet. “Now we must leave them,” she said, shuffling toward the door.
Enri rose too. “Should we not watch over them? What if they have need of us?”
“We cannot help them now,” she said, casting her eye across them both. “And they only have need of each other. In the morning, we shall return.”
Enri moved to follow her. “And will Jack be well?”
“Too early to tell,” his mother said, taking his arm to support her tired limbs. “But by morning we will know. Come now, take me to the other one.”
“To Will Turner?” he frowned. “Mother, it is late. You are tired.”
“And you fuss worse than both your wives together. Turner has a place here, did you not sense it?”
Enri considered the point as they stepped out into the clean, fresh air. “He is a man of the land, that is true.”
“And of the forest, and living things. The ferryman of the dead needs life, lest he fall from this world before his time.”
“He loves Elizabeth Swann,” Enri pointed out. “I doubt he will be parted from her, and she is no more likely to stay ashore than Jack.”
His mother smiled. “We shall see,” was all she said as she shuffled out into the darkness. “We shall see.”
It was dark. All around them it was dark and yet she found she could see Jack well, as though a golden light gleamed from nowhere upon his skin, upon the trinkets glinting in his hair.
“Are we dead, then?” he whispered, his arms tight about her.
“Not dead.” She drew back and glanced around at the soft darkness. “Somewhere between, I think.”
“’Tis not the Locker,” he said, turning in a slow circle. “Too gentle a place for that.”
Elizabeth nodded; there was a gentleness here, somehow. Certainly no sense of death or pain. Only the blanketing darkness, soft as velvet. She reached out and took his hand, afraid, suddenly, of losing him.
The sword she’d wielded so desperately was gone. And just as well, for she trembled like a child at the memory of that horrifying death – his horror, she realised, which she had shared. And halved, she hoped, in the sharing.
“Glad you came back, love,” he said, as if reading her mind; perhaps, in this place, he could. “Would have been a hard death, alone.”
For a heartbeat she anticipated the familiar, suffocating guilt. But it was gone, the slate was wiped clean – the circle broken. With an euphoric sense of relief, she rested her head against his shoulder and let him hold her. “What do you remember of it?” she asked after a while.
“I remember you, fierce as a warrior, and I remember…” He sighed against her hair. “Was it a dream, those tender words you spoke, Lizzie?”
“The words were no dream.” She lifted her face to his. “But for the rest…?”
He studied her a moment, a slow realisation dawning in his eyes. “Enri… The cohoba. Then, this is all a dream?”
“More than a dream, I think. Deeper. But…” She waved a hand at the strange darkness. “We are not in the waking world.”
He stared at her a long time, a serious look in his eyes. Then, as though suddenly struck by something incredibly clever, he smiled. It was a slow, devilish smile the like of which she’d not seen since before his death; it would have broken her heart had it not sent her pulse racing so fiercely. Slowly, he lifted an elegant hand and brushed his knuckles against the side of her face in a slow caress, his fingers trailing through her hair. “When we wake,” he said, drawing so close she could feel his words brush her lips, “all will be as it was; you will be the King and I your errant Lord.”
“Always more than that, Jack. As you know.”
His eyes gleamed, fingers toying with her hair in a manner that made her shiver. “It occurs to me that this is a moment of rare opportunity, Lizzie – a once in a lifetime occurrence, as it were. A moment unshackled by consequence.” His fingers traced the line of jagua he’d painted down her chest. “A dream, ’tis all – a lover’s dream.”
A dream in which she was bound to no one, she realised; she had no husband here, she had no child. Her life was her own for the first time in eleven long years. There was only Jack in the dreaming darkness and the rising heat of their desire.
“Freedom, Lizzie, is it not?” His fingers slid beneath her open-necked shirt, tracing the outline of her breast with a light, teasing caress that made her gasp. “Freedom from all our mistakes, from all their consequences.”
“And what mistakes have you made, Jack Sparrow?”
He kissed her neck then, his loose hair tickling her shoulder. “The first,” he breathed against her skin, “was not bedding you when I had the chance, upon that cursed spit of an island.”
She laughed, running her hands over his smooth, bare shoulders. “What makes you think you had a chance?”
“Instinct.” He smiled like the devil himself. “You were intrigued, love. Captivated. Fascinated.”
“I was a child.”
“Less so than I thought, as it turns out.” His face grew serious. “You bewitched me, Lizzie. From that night on, you were in my dreams. And so you are still, it seems.”
“Or perhaps,” she said with a smile, “you are in mine?”
He kissed her softly, warmly. “’Tis all I ever wanted, Lizzie, to live forever in your dreams.”
And in that moment she thought she could never love him enough had she a lifetime to try; it broke her heart that this night – this moment between worlds – was all they could ever share.
“No tears, love,” he murmured against her lips. “’Tis only a dream, after all.”
And when he kissed her then it was the stuff of dreams; a perfect merging of body and soul. His touch was gentle on her heated skin, expert hands exploring her with shining devotion as he drew her to the ground by his side. Black, sweat-damp curls hung about his face when he bent to kiss her, his fingers sliding like silk across her eager body. And when her lips pressed against the base of his throat his soft gasp filled her with so much love she could have wept – for him, for them, and for this beautiful dream they shared.
Later, tangled and moving together in fevered rhythms, Elizabeth found her mind drifting in a strange place. A single point of white light seemed to burn at the centre of the darkness, growing brighter as her body strained against his, yearning for more and more, just a little more... And in the moment he lost himself deep inside her, gasping her name with his mouth hot against her skin, that point of light exploded with a shattering brilliance. She called out, then, her body breaking in waves against him, until slowly, slowly the dazzling light faded like Chinese firecrackers above a midnight sea.
And as she drifted down she began to feel soft rugs beneath her naked skin, could hear the crackle and pop of a dying fire. Began to notice that the air was strangely heavy with incense...
Time passed, indeterminate in the dream, as they drifted together through tender darkness. Moments only, perhaps, because when he said her name his voice was a kiss against her throat, his weight deliciously languid across her chest. She smiled, melancholy as she ran fingers through his cropped, tangled hair, knowing that soon they would wake and the dream would fade.
“I love you,” she whispered, because it was a dream, and in the dream her heart was free to wander where it chose. “I’ll always love you, Jack.”
“Wide as the horizon, love,” he murmured sleepily, “deep as the ocean.”
She smiled and understood him. “It was always—” But she didn’t finish her sentence, because at that moment she opened her eyes.
Past the smooth curve of Jack’s shoulder she realised that the magical darkness was gone. The blazing light had burned it away like morning mist and in its place were walls and a roof…
Her fingers stilled in his hair, truth stealing her breath.
Jack lifted his head to regard her with drowsy eyes. “Always what…?” But he must have seen the expression on her face, because he twisted sharply to look behind him. “Oh.” After a moment he looked back at her with a chagrined grimace and said, “So… Less of a dream than we imagined, eh?”
She pressed her hands over her mouth. “Oh, Jack, what have we done?”
“’Tis nothing.” He sat up, his smile nervous and unsettled. “A mere trifle, a momentary lapse…” But his voice broke and he turned away. “’Twas a dream, is all,” he said roughly. “No need for anyone to—” Fingers scrubbed through his hair. “Lest you wish to tell him, no need for William to know, love.”
She sat too, regarding the empty bohio, and noticed with a flush that their clothes had been neatly piled by the door. She prayed to any god who would still hear her that Enri and Yuisa had not born witness to— It was impossible to contemplate, and yet part of her wondered if this had been their intention all along.
Absently, she reached out a hand and touched Jack’s shoulder. “You’re right,” she said quietly. “It was as if in a dream.”
He sighed at her touch, and something in the pit of her stomach clenched at the finality of it. “Though a dream would have faded when we woke,” he said, turning around and taking her hand in his. “But this night…?”
“Then we’re lucky,” she said, her smile faltering, “we will never forget—”
He didn’t let her finish, pulling her hard against him and holding tight, as if the desperate moment of separation could be postponed so long as they remained in each other’s arms.
“Come back to the Cove with me,” she urged. “Don’t disappear again.”
“Would be torture, love.”
“Losing you again would be torture.”
He took her face in his hands, made her meet his eyes. “To see you every day? Without being able to… to…” He kissed her fiercely. “Lizzie, don’t ask me to—”
A shaft of morning sunlight lanced across the room and they leaped apart; someone pushed back the curtain and stepped inside.
Naked and panicking, Elizabeth scrabbled for something to cover herself; Jack shoved a blanket at her and rose quickly to his feet, apparently heedless of his own nakedness. “Who’s there?”
The daylight cut off as the curtain closed and Elizabeth heard soft, shuffling footsteps approach before Yuisa stepped into the low firelight. In the darkness, her eyes were like diamonds and there was no surprise in her wizened features. “So,” she said, “you are awake, then.” She drew closer, angling her face to gaze into Jack’s. “And yourself again I see, boy.”
“Do you now?” He spoke with a lazy hint of threat. “This is some trouble you’ve landed us in, you old crone.”
Yuisa chuckled broadly. “Landed yourself in it, I’d say.” Her gaze darted down to Elizabeth and back to Jack. “Shackled your souls together, so she did, then tore ’em apart. You’d not have escaped that place without making a whole of ’em again.”
He regarded her silently and Elizabeth knew he couldn’t argue with the truth in her words. Whole was how she felt, with him. After a silence, Jack said, “She has a husband.”
Yuisa shrugged. “I have three. That you choose to live by such absurd laws is not my concern.” She turned and began to make her way toward the door. “There is food outside, when you are hungry.”
Neither of them spoke for a while after the old woman had gone. Jack stood silently watching the door, naked and beautiful in the firelight, the implications of his words hanging starkly between them. At length he said, “We should dress.”
“And will you leave, then?” Elizabeth asked. “Take the Pearl and go?”
He smiled, a brazen curve of gold and ivory. “I’ll not strand you here, Lizzie, if that’s what you think. I’ll return you and Will to the Cove, if you so wish it – though I think William has other ideas.” He turned then and walked over to his clothes, beginning to dress. “Thinks you’ve been too long at sea, love.”
“I know,” she said, somehow unable to move from beneath the blanket. “He hates the sea, Jack. Did you know that? It robbed him of ten years, and he wants nothing more to do with it.”
Jack grunted as he pulled his shirt over his head. “And you?”
“I think you know the answer to that.” She sighed. “It was a marriage made in haste, Jack. We were children. Who, at one-and-twenty, knows what they will be ten years hence?”
“Very few,” he conceded. “And yet it is still a marriage, is it not…?”
She looked away, the question uncomfortable. “Until last night I would have answered ‘yes’.”
There was a silent pause, a breathless pause. “And now?”
“Peas in a pod,” she said softly, fidgeting with the blanket so she didn’t have to look at him. “A life without you seems no life at all, yet Will is the father of my son – how can I abandon him?”
After a long silence, Jack spoke, his voice gruff and full of feeling. “God curse me for a bloody fool, Lizzie, but I would wait a year of nights to spend a single one with you. And if that is all we are to have, then it is more than before; Will cannot always be with you.”
Her eyes blurred as she looked up at him. “Then you’ll stay? At the Cove? With us?”
Crossing the room, he dropped to his knees in front of her. His open shirt slid from one shoulder and she reached out to touch the red bruises her lips had left behind. “Marked me,” he said in a low voice, catching her hand in his. “Marked me, body and soul, Elizabeth. Come to me when you can, and it will be enough.”
“Precious little,” she whispered, drawing his fingers to her lips.
“More than I deserve, no doubt.” He kissed her softly on the mouth. “Dress now, love. We’ll hold this between ourselves and show the world the face it wants to see, eh?”
“We’ll be deceiving Will.”
His eyes grew dark, shadowed. “Are we not already? And if not Will, then each other – as we have these past ten years.”
Lowering her eyes, she felt tears fall as she rested her head against his shoulder. “It’s all a horrible mess.”
“’Tis life, Elizabeth, and precious for all that it’s a muddle.” His comforting hand stroked her hair, a lover’s tender touch. “Can do naught but live it while we can, lest we regret the not living of it later. And I’ll not regret you, Lizzie, not for a single moment…”
Joshamee Gibbs had business aboard the Pearl that morning and so made his way quietly from the sleeping village to the shore. Three of the longboats were beached there and he planned to make use of one of them; he’d left Ragetti in charge of some minor repairs and was already cursing himself for such a lapse in judgement. Yet Gibbs had been determined to accompany Jack ashore the previous day, having no faith in his strange lubberly brother, nor – if truth were told – in Captain Swann and her eerie husband. Something of the witch about that woman; he’d thought so even before he’d discovered her hand in his captain’s downfall. But she’d done Jack good these past weeks, he couldn’t deny it, and what was good for Captain Jack was generally good for Joshamee Gibbs. For now, then, he was content to leave the captain in her hands…
He grunted at the involuntary image and tried not to smile.
But, as it so happened, the shrivelled old crone in charge of things had refused Gibbs admittance to the rite that was supposed to cure the captain of his madness. And even when she and her son had emerged in the quiet hours before dawn, she’d set a man upon the door and kept all out. He’s well, she’d said, beady little eyes boring into him, resting and in no need of your company, sir. Needless to say, Gibbs had grumbled in a good show of irritation and then slipped around the back in search of a spy hole through which to ensure that all was, indeed, well with Jack. He’d not found one, but he’d heard something of what was going on within… The captain, it seemed, was not resting. However, Gibbs had found himself somewhat less concerned with Jack’s welfare as he returned to the fire and his rum.
He’d spent the rest of the night, until dawn sliced across the horizon, in deep discussion with Will Turner about the intricacies of rigging a ship that sailed beneath the waves. After all, would have done no one any good had the lad seen fit to check on the whereabouts of his wife…
It was much later now, as he made his way to the beach. The sun was warm, unthreatened by the few clouds drifting upon the horizon, and there was a brisk breeze that made him wish to be afloat. Unless he was in company with a couple of comely armfuls, and a good deal of rum, a single night ashore was all Joshamee Gibbs could tolerate. It would be good, then, to get back to the Pearl and—
He stopped at the head of the beach, surprised to see Captain Sparrow himself standing at the water’s edge, gazing out toward his ship. As Gibbs watched, Jack stripped off his shirt and britches and waded into the water, diving beneath the waves as soon as possible and swimming hard across the bay. There was no sign of Elizabeth Swann, so Gibbs made his cautious way toward the longboats, fiddling with the oars and ropes and waiting for Jack to return.
In due course he did, stroking lazily through the water on his back, and standing to rub some kind of black stuff from his face, chest and arms. When he was done, he waded ashore, shaking his dripping hair like a dog. Gibbs watched as he dried himself with his shirt and dressed, then said, “How cheer ye this morning, Captain?”
Jack cast him a look, clearly unsurprised by his presence. “’Tis the first morning I’ve really seen in too long, mate.”
“You’re back then?” Gibbs raised his hand to shield his eyes from the sun.
“Aye,” Jack smiled. After a moment he added, “’Tis a good friend who stands by a madman, Gibbs. I owe you. For that, and for,” he gestured at Gibbs’ shoulder with a flutter of fingers, “for the other thing as well.”
“I’ve had worse on a good night in Tortuga, truth be told.”
Jack laughed quietly. “Was fortunate that my aim was off, eh?”
“Your aim is never off, Captain. Had you truly meant me harm, I’d be harmed.”
Jack hung his head a moment but didn’t disagree; uncommonly quiet, Gibbs thought. Pensive. “I’ve a need to be aboard me ship,” he said eventually. “We’ll be here some weeks, I think. But I’ve a need to be aboard the Pearl.”
“Heading there myself, Captain,” said Gibbs. Then, hesitantly, “Will Captain Swann be joining you, sir?”
Something of a reproachful smile skittered over Jack’s face – too youthful, now, for the gravity in those eyes. “Not until we make sail, I don’t suppose. I believe she and Turner have business here, or some such nonsense. William has a hankering to plant his toes in the dirt and I expect he’ll do his best to persuade Liz— his wife to join him.” He cast Gibbs a roguish look. “He’ll not succeed however; I’ll be ferrying ’em both to the Cove before the season turns.”
“And from the Cove?” Gibbs asked. “We’ll not be lingering within reach of Captain Teague, I don’t suppose.”
His words were met by a silence. And when Gibbs glanced over at his old friend he saw something that looked like confession in his eyes. Or confusion. Both, perhaps. “Find myself somewhat shackled, as it turns out,” Jack admitted with a skittish laugh. “Not good, I know, for the likes of me. Or you, for that matter. But that’s how it is. The Cove’s not a bad base of operations. Safe enough, at least. And the monsoon’s hard upon us, so we’ll not be wanting for prizes in the Indies, eh?” He clapped Gibbs on the shoulder. “Now get this boat afloat, man, and take me to me bloody ship.”
With that he strode up the beach, leaving Gibbs to hurry after. “Have a care, Jack,” he muttered, catching him up as they reached the longboat. “The Ferryman’s wife?”
“Former Ferryman,” Jack pointed out, uncurling the rope and beginning to haul the boat into the water. “And that, mate, is none of your concern.”
Gibbs sighed and threw the oars into the bottom of the boat. “One way or another, Jack Sparrow,” he grumbled, “you’re going to get us all bloody killed.”
“That is neither my intention nor my desire,” Jack assured him, holding the boat steady as the first waves bucked her prow. “But one way or another we’ll all end up maggot food in the end. If you’re too old for some adventure along the way, Mr. Gibbs, I suggest you sail with Barbossa. He always was a tedious old git.”
Gibbs smiled and shook his head. “Mother and child, Jack, but I’ve missed you.”
The captain flashed him a smile in return. “I’ve missed myself, mate. I’ve missed me bloody self.”
Continued in Chapter Eight