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Serving the Sentence

by Linaelyn

 

Fandom: PoTC    Rating: R    Characters: Barbossa's crew, Navy men    Full Header

 


Bo'sun lay stretched on the stone flags of the overcrowded cell, having secured the best position available. He felt the prickle of straw on his skin, and reveled in the discomfort. So many years it had been, since the subtleties of such things had touched his physical senses.

Pintel stood at the bars of the little window, stubbled chin resting on the mortar, one hand curled around a bar. Every few minutes, he'd try again to shake loose the wrought iron grille, hostility rumbling deep in his chest.

Raggetti curled on the floor at Pintel's feet, voicing some childhood singsong, and braiding the hay into tiny simulacrum shapes: a horse, a girl, a cat. A rooster with dangling tailfeathers.

Twigg rocked. Eyes blind and ears deaf, he rocked and rocked and rocked. All he saw was the moonlight, and the Commodore's blade dipped red. All he heard, over and over, was Koehler's voice: Let's slit our throats, and spill all our blood, just to be sure.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Koehler lay in the dark, skin afire, maggots tearing his innards, groin burned away with molten lead. The deepest circle of Hell...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Twigg knew it for madness when he heard Koehler call his name. Koehler was dead, the first of them to die, the first of them in ten years to feel life trickle out and not return. Unless, perhaps, the Captain had had that honor. If the reports were accurate, Sparrow's bullet had flown true and sundered Barbossa's heart.

Koehler called him again.

Delusion. It must be. But the cry came stronger, more insistent, all the same: Twigg! Twiiiiiiigg! ... betrayers and mutineers... must escape... you must live... The voice cracked and faded into echoing shards, sharp as crushed glass, involuntarily swallowed through battling, gritted teeth.

Bo'sun noted the increase in the cadence of Twigg's rocking. He'd hoped the shock would wear off, and Twigg would return to them. He could manage without him; he could manage alone, if need be. But Twigg had been a solid campaigner, always good in an unfair fight.

Twigg froze, as if time itself had stopped. That final echo...

...the deepest circle of Hell...

Not a sound, not a breath passed his cracked lips. Even Raggetti, lost in his own inner world, glanced at the lack-of-motion, and fell still. All the inmates stared as tears welled and began to roll down Twigg's face.

Remorse. Twigg had never felt such a thing before. "No regrets" was his standard catch-phrase, one that all knew him by. Koehler had always been the voice of hesitance to violence, of mercy when the job was complete. Twigg knew he'd have done far more heinous things, had Koehler not stayed his hand, many a time.

Twigg regretted his action, or rather, his lack of action.

He should have run that sodding bluejacket through the eye, for what he'd done, and hacked his skull into tiny, jagged morsels. He should have slit his tendons...

"Twigg," Bo'sun's rumbling bass caught him from his reverie. "Are you ready?"

Wiping damp nose with the back of a grimy, bloodstained hand, Twigg stood on shaky legs. "M'ready."

Revenge. It would have to be enough to give him strength where physical body failed. The Late Captain Hector Barbossa's crew readied for battle, in quiet whispers and secret plans.

Revenge. It was all that remained for this crew of men who faced death on the gallows, and eternal torment beyond it.

It would be enough.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Commodore Norrington fired off a series of staccato orders as he strode briskly down the dark, dank corridor. "The watch must be doubled. Extra care to be taken at all times, no fewer than four marines to be stationed at each of the exits. Rations to be delivered only immediately following a change of the guard, so the men are sharp, and never to be delivered by any but military personnel."

Lieutenant Groves had difficulty keeping pace with his commanding officer's long stride. "Could we do away with feeding them altogether, sir?" he suggested. "They won't go hungry long."

Norrington halted in his tracks. "Criminals though they be, Lieutenant, I will not stoop to torturing them further. Justice requires their execution; after what those unfortunates have suffered, cursed as they were for years, only a tyrant would choose to rob them of the simple comfort of food and drink."

"Aye, sir."

"And get rid of the dog that's always lurking about," Norrington ordered. "That creature seems to have a penchant for causing trouble."

"The grey cur? He's harmless enough, quite friendly. He stays because he's been given a few scraps." Norrington's disapproving silence greeted this revelation. "I'll see he's relocated, sir." Seeing dismissal in the Commodore's eye, Groves saluted and turned on his heel.

As the younger officer's boots echoed down the hallway, Norrington gnawed at his lip, hands clasped behind himself. The mass trial for the prisoners would be swift and sure; all had been apprehended in the act of assaulting a flagship of His Majesty's Fleet. Yet, still... that nagging, niggling intuition.

Something was about to go very wrong.

Norrington hated it when he knew, and could do nothing to stop it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Groves squatted on the floor of the hallway, careful to keep the tails of his coat and the knees of his dress-whites off the grimy flagstones. "Come on, doggie. There's a good dog, yesss... Come on, come to Ellis, that's a boy..." A large gobbet of some anonymous animal tissue dangled from Groves' hand.

"Er,... she's a bitch, sir," Murtogg interrupted.

The lieutenant glanced up and over his shoulder. "I hardly think the creature cares what I call it; it only hears the tone of my voice."

A basso growl came from the dusky-furred beast, and she lunged like lightning, taking the meat from the officer's hand. Mullroy twitched a smirk as Groves lost his balance and had to drop one knee into the filth of the prison floor. "P'raps she un'erstands more than ye give her credit for, leftenant?"

Groves muttered something profane under his breath. "Just get that mutt out of here, or there will be hell to pay. Commodore's orders."

"Yes, sir," Murtogg affirmed, without making any move to do so.

"As soon as possible, sir," agreed Mullroy. Another pause, and still no action from the two marines.

Murtogg explained, "Right after she's done eatin' that bit you've given 'er, sir." The mutt had settled on the floor and was worrying the offal into tiny strips, clearly in no hurry to finish her unexpected feast.

"Right after she's done?" Groves sputtered.

"Ye cannae shift a dog when she's eating, sir. It's no go. Never work." Mullroy's brogue always thickened when he was nervous. For good measure, the cur added a grumbling growl to all the chewing and smacking.

"Very well," Groves sighed. "The moment she's finished, out she goes."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Worn smoooth from tar and grease, the belt leather slid through Pintel's hand. He struck the buckle against the stone floor: clank, clank, clank, over and over. Crouched next to him, Raggetti arrayed his little straw menagerie around the place where Pintel concentrated his efforts. Every once in a while, a spark flew.

Flint. And steel.

"Hoi! What are you about, there?" The guard's voice cut through the rhythmic clanking. "Belay that infernal racket!"

"These two blokes were daft buggers a'fore we ever laid eyes on the likes of you lobsters," Twigg's mocking sing-song interceded. "They're jes' playin' with their dollies, again. Aren't ye, boys? Hmmm? Dollies, aye?" Raggetti's head bobbed in vociferous agreement, eyes bulging: one moist flesh and one lifeless wood.

Bo'sun sneered and aimed a kick at Raggetti's unprotected arse, crouched within easy reach of his hard toe.

The marine smiled as he poked his bayonet through the bars, to rest at the thick column of Bo'sun's throat. "None of that, now. Next one of you so much as touches another one of you, I'll put your name at the bottom of the list. You'll get to watch each comrade hang before you."

Bo'sun merely flashed a gleam of brilliant teeth in his dark face. The marine retracted his rifle from between the bars, belatedly giving thought to what might happen if the prisoner had pulled it from his grasp.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Simbakka is the best choice for the one to start the chain of events. He was always a little awkward in his actions, never fully in control of his flailing limbs, and the riotous blond dreadlocks only added to the impression. The pale-eyed pirate holds his piss until the change of the guard, which comes late (or perhaps it only seems so.)

He drops his breeches, just as the additional guards arrive with the slop and loaves for the inmates' supper. Squatting over the latrine bucket in the corner, he sighs loudly in relief, emptying himself into the already overfull container.

As he finishes his business, there's a slight tension in the air, one that the guards attribute to the delivery of the rations, and the squabbling that will no doubt ensue. As always, they order the prisoners to line the back wall and rattle the keys in the lock tauntingly until they comply. No food until everyone is far enough away to stab with the fixed bayonet. But none make note of the prisoner on the pot, lack of privacy making him, by polite convention, an invisible cipher.

When the door cracks open, Simbakka stands, and in the struggle to right his clothing, catches his belt on the bucket's rim, tipping it over. A subtle nudge with his toe, and a long day's accumulation of the prisoners' urine and feces spreads a foul miasma spewing across the floor of the cell.

Both captives and captors gag. Consternation and chaos ensue.

The only creature seemingly unaffected by the stench is the dog. She's smelled worse in her time as jail mutt. Besides, this batch of detainees has been uncommonly generous with their scraps, for the past day or so. She hovers as close to the iron grillework as she dares, hoping the handouts will not be reduced by the commotion.

Inside his coat, Pintel is nursing a small package, and a larger one as well. He combines the small, smoldering one with the larger parcel, and blows into his cupped hands. Flame leaps bright in straw gleaned from the floor and the scraps of clothing and hair, each torn from the men's bodies by their own fingers. Practical and magical, combined.

All depends on the next moment.

Pintel throws the flaming wad of materiel at his target; the packet is neither very large nor very heavy, but it flies straight and true, landing deep in the thick fur of the mangy beast who begs just outside the cell.

The dog catches fire.

Her howls echo through the cavernous jail; hellhounds would make just such a noise.

It is the distraction they need. The marines are caught off-guard when the prisoners attack.

Bo'sun's handsome leer unnerves his opponents, the way that he faces each rifle barrel without regard to the death that awaits him; swift as a leopard, he wrenches the gun from the marine's grasp and buries the blade at its muzzle hiltdeep in the redcoat's bowels.

Twigg fights with teeth and nails, ignoring all injuries. A musketball pierces his bicep as he raises a pistolbutt over his head to strike, the barrel still burning hot in his hand; nevertheless, his downward blow crushes the eyesocket of the soldier before him.

They all fight like men doomed to hang on the morrow.

Which should come as no surprise, honestly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Harold Gillette sat at his desk in his office second story of the fort's officer's quarters, papers strewn before him. Always more of these blasted reports, so tedious and so necessary. Always difficult to concentrate in the heat, as well. The afternoon thundershowers had been absent, these past three days, and the resultant overly humid atmosphere was akin to walking through soup. A rancid soup at that, this time of year, with fish spoiling on the dockside and the effluvium from the rudimentary sewers of the fort.

The uniform was beastly, under these conditions, and Gillette knew his cravat was limp and soaking with his own salty perspiration. He rose and strode to the water pitcher in the corner, when an eerie keening caught his attention. Forgoing the refreshment, Gillette pivoted to peer over the sill into the courtyard below, and beheld the sight of a hurtling shape: a smoky grey and golden orange blur.

The clock in the foyer ticked, as he puzzled out what it was he had seen.

Two.

Three.

Four.

"MARINES! ALL AVAILABLE GUNS TO THE QUAY! DEFEND THE DAUNTLESS, ALL HANDS!" Gillette bellowed the orders out his window and the fort to exploded into an anthill of activity. Catching up his pistols and sword as he dashed from the room, he nearly collided with an approaching soldier.

"YOU! Find the Commodore and rouse him to battle. We have a prison riot in progress. Tell him I've taken a squadron to defend the ships, and he may wish to see to the site of the insurrection."

"Aye-aye, sir. Gillette with squadron to the ships; Commodore to the jail." The redcoat's salute was sketchy but his motion brisk as he dashed off to locate the commanding officer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The stolen knife in Raggetti's hand was long enough to be nearly a shortsword, but he still used it as an assassin would. In Pintel's experience, however, very few assassins giggled every time they killed. Beelzebub must love that boy near as much as I, he thought.

Then he ducked behind a mortised column, just in time to keep that from being his last thought, ever.

The element of surprise had served them well. They reached the docks before an entire squadron had assembled there, though not before Lieutenant Gillette had a chance to array his personnel in a suitably defensible fashion before the vulnerable Dauntless. Pistol loaded in his left hand, Harold raised his saber over his head in his right, calling out "Ready ARMS! On my word, and no sooner, men..." The click of flintlocks in place carried loud over the water's surface.

The ragtag band of escapees tore over the cobbles, intent on their goal, the only escape available in a steeply sided harbor such as Port Royal. Bo'sun held up a hand, and the pelting progress of the haphazardly armed group came to a stuttering halt. "Not that ship. Fishing fleet, merchant vessels. Split into twos and threes. They won't take all of us."

Twigg was bleeding from his upper arm, rather profusely despite the hasty binding. "Raise a glass for me, lads, whenever you meet next. I'll hold the reds for you all."

Bo'sun was caught off-guard for the first time in years. It showed in his face, as did his regret.

"MOVE!" Twigg ordered, and the other pirates scattered like rats along the waterfront. All but Bo'sun, who stood stock-still for a moment as the others fled.

"Are you bound for this?" Bo'sun asked.

"Koehler calls," was Twigg's only reply.

The tall, scarred warrior passed both of his pistols to Twigg and bowed from the waist. "See you on the other side."

"In a distant year, Bo'sun, aye."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Norrington paced, furious, behind the straight-backed chair. Gillette sat ramrod straight, taking his debriefing like a man. He could hear the commodore struggling to control his breath, his temper showing in every exhalation. A distant door slammed, and Gillette flinched.

"You and your squadron were held in place, unable to advance or defend the other boats, by a single, poorly armed miscreant?"

"Yes, sir. We were unable to shift him despite several shots penetrating his person. He seemed unable to die, sir, and that frankly unnerved the men under my command. Several had served with me on the Dauntless that night, sir."

"So you failed to lead your men in a direct, bodily assault, and the good citizens of Port Royal have taken heavy losses in both nautical equipment and personal property, due to your decision to remain at stalemate."

"It seemed to me my primary duty was to protect the Dauntless, sir." Gillette's head bowed in shame and chagrin, then snapped back to attention lest his commander see him be anything but accepting of his fate to come.

A hand came to rest on his shoulder. "So it was, Harold; so it was. A navy without a warship in situ is a far more dangerous prospect than the loss of a few fishing sloops. Without the Dauntless at our disposal, we'd have no way of pursuing the fugitives, and no mobile ordnance with which to protect these waters." Norrington's visage was still stern, but an understated tone softened his words. "I must, of course, reprimand you publicly. Such is the way of things at times; the merchants must be placated with a scapegoat. But I feel you should retain your rank, and merely slip your position as first on the Dauntless' officers list; I'll place Groves in your slot, although I'm none too pleased with his performance in this affair, either."

Gillette stifled a sigh of relief. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. You are very generous, sir."

Norrington chuckled, "No, I'm merely expeditious. I've no one with whom to replace you, Harold."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The rain was pissing down steadily, turning the open grave into an ankle-deep mudhole. Gloppy shovelfuls of soil flew desultorily, just barely keeping pace with the slumping of the walls. An idle thought crossed Murtogg's mind: Do leeches form out of the raindrops, or does the appearance of the blood-suckers herald the approach of a shower?

"Why're we always the ones, what gets given the shit jobs?" Mullroy asked.

"'Cause you're always the one what stands in the wrong place, and gets blamed for it, when one of them officers sends the whole thing t'bollocks!" Murtogg replied with venom. "Here, help me shift 'im. The hole's deep enough." It wasn't deep enough, not really, but it wasn't likely to become any deeper in this rain, and the mud would keep the corpus under the surface, long enough.

"Mary n' Joseph," Mullroy blasphemed, "he's got nothin' left to 'im! I think the fellow didn't never even have a soul, he's so light."

"Nah. He's just had all the blood drained out the holes, and the surgeon took a moment to dig out the shot from 'im as well, t'salvage on the lead. Seventeen, he found, and said there was twice that many holes goin' in and comin' out the far side!"

The marines both grunted in grudging respect, and then tossed Twigg's corpse in the unhallowed ground of the potter's field. "Twice seventeen, eh?" Mullroy mused, "That's... twenty-three?" The slosh as the body hit the bottom was loud despite the rain's patter.

"Thirty-three. You forgot to carry the ten."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He woke to the sound of distant fiddle music and laughing voices.

The aroma of warm spiced wine and roasting meats and baking bread met his nostrils and brought a deep intake of appreciative breath.

It was blessedly warm and none too damp, here by the side of the hearth. The fire crackled and shifted, and he turned to look at the golden light emanating from it. It was hard to open his eyes at first.

When he finally managed it, he couldn't countenance what he saw. The room he occupied was Mother's kitchen. The kettle dangled from the crook of the crane, bubbling merrily; he found himself wrapped in a soft length of homespun, and wearing a new suit of clothes. He was cleanshaven, and his skin felt as if he'd just bathed.

He sat up. It didn't hurt.

For the first time in memory, it didn't hurt. Nothing.

No pain. Only pleasure, the stretch of muscle, well rested and ready for the day's work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Koehler writhed beneath the instruments of his torturers. There was no hair remaining on him, scalp or body; it had all been tweezed out, each follicle a bleeding pinprick. The acid they dipped each fingertip in had burned for days, and he had been forced to swallow his own blood until he vomited.

Koehler could no longer remember what it had been like, before. Koehler could no longer recall what it had been to be alive.

His own words came back to haunt him; he, himself, had known nothing of Hell.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Twigg left the makeshift cot by the hearthside, and wandered the few rooms of the cottage, looking for other occupants. He was unsure whom he expected to find. His mother and brother had been dead for years, and his sister long ago married and gone to her husband's care. He felt strange, pacing through a place he'd not set foot in, in over three decades. Where were his brother's heirs? Had he been called back to fulfill the mortgage, in lieu of any others to pay the debts?

Why couldn't he recall the journey that brought him home?

The door to the sleeping room, behind the kitchen, was shut tight. Twigg knocked, and heard a low response, but the words were undecipherable.

"'Allo? Beg'n y'r pardon..." Twigg announced himself as he swung it on the hinges, just a bit more than a crack, to discover what sort of host he was guest to.

A dark-skinned man lay naked on the enormous fourposted featherbed, grander than any piece of furniture that Twigg could recall gracing this room. A pale brand transected his face in a cruciform, but he was otherwise unmarked. Despite their years as matelots, it had never occurred to Twigg before, to consider whether he found Koehler attractive.

Koehler was breathtakingly beautiful.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Koehler heard Twigg's voice, but couldn't see him, his eyes being long gone. He tried to call out, but his voice was rusty from disuse, and only a croaking rasp came. He tried to tell Twigg to flee, to escape this vile place, but no sensible sound could he make.

Koehler cried, but without the ability to make tears. He'd done his best to warn Twigg, to keep him safe, out of harm's way; the warnings had fallen short, or fallen on deaf ears. He had failed in even this one final effort, to save something of his life, to safeguard something he had once loved.

All was lost, now. Everything was lost.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Twigg watched the breath catch in Koehler's chest, and the tears that ran over the brand-marked cheekbones. Koehler shook as if he were freezing to death; did he suffer some sort of fever?

Twigg took him in his arms to try and comfort the injured man.

"Run," Koehler managed to wheeze, weakly pushing Twigg's chest away from his own, "run while you still can..."

"No, I'm staying here with you," Twigg said. "I came because you called me." Gradually, the realization dawned. Here was Koehler; Koehler was dead. He was here himself; had he passed beyond life as well? Was this... Hell? Surely not. Hell would hold no such comforts, nor would it be a familiar place. Or was this mere seeming?

Was this... Heaven? Twigg mused. Heaven would be an empty place indeed, were Koehler not there. But Koehler had called to him from Hell. What sort of place was this? He gazed closely at the walls. They seemed solid enough, roughhewn timbers and sloppy plastering. The floor was still packed dirt, but it seemed to be freshly tamped.

"There is no way..." coughing racked the naked man, shaking him further, "...no way out." The deepest circle of Hell was not a place one could escape. Twigg was trapped here, as surely as he himself had been. Betrayers and Mutineers.

"I can help, if you trust me." Trust was the one thing they had always shared. They had watched each other's backs, watched each other's gold, given and taken in equal measures. Matelots in every circumstance.

Koehler struggled a moment more, trying to impress on his partner the danger he risked, but his will was broken by the infinity of pain he had lived in this Hell.

Koehler relaxed into Twigg's embrace, and whispered, "Save yourself; not me."

"I'll do both." Koehler thought he had no lips remaining after what his torturers had done, the demons who tore suffering from his existence. But Twigg's lips touched his own, and Koehler found there was sensitive skin there. Twigg's caress over his torso took away the pain and brought health and strength to his limbs. His fingernails regrew, and then his hair.

It was a strange sensation, but not an unpleasant one.

Twigg kissed each eye, and Koehler's sight returned. He saw the small sleepingroom of a humble abode, and not the brimstone-smoky dungeons that he had last held in his view.

"Where am I?" he asked, bewildered. "Where have you brought me?"

Twigg looked around the room his parents had shared in his own childhood, and was at a loss as to how to answer. "What do you see?" How would he describe what led him here, when the last event he could recall before this place was a squadron of redcoats firing on him?

"I see my little house, with the copper tub in the corner. I smell the pork roasting, and hear the ocean outside, rushing down the sand. I see a solid roof of thatch, freshly trimmed, and the doors east and west to catch the ev'ning breeze." Koehler's voice broke, "I see the place I always hoped to bring you, when we'd crossed our names off the Articles."

"Well, I guess that's the answer, then," Twigg grinned broadly, understanding at last. "We've come home."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bo'sun lay stretched in the stern of the small boat, having secured the best vessel available for a single man to sail. He felt the prickle of the splintering gunwale in his armpit and reveled in the discomfort. The sea rocked him in the night and the cool breeze caressed his cheek.

Barbossa was dead and could take no bite of that apple. Koehler was dead and could take no freshwater bath as he'd always spoken of. And Twigg. Twigg was dead and gone to be with Koehler.

Bo'sun gazed at the star-filled skies above, and wondered.

His booming laugh echoed over the water; he was very glad to be alive.
 

 

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