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How Many Miles to Babylon

by Melusina

 

Fandom: PoTC    Rating: PG    Pairing: none (Jack Sparrow & Hob Gadling)    Full Header

 


1.Three score and ten.


Hob was in need of a good map of the Caribbean, and Bartleby was purported to be the best cartographer in town. But when Hob finally found the shop, down a winding alley and a creaky flight of stairs, he couldn't seem to get anyone to assist him. He'd arrived on the heels of a lubberly looking gentleman in a green coat who immediately became engrossed in conversation with the mapmaker. The apprentice, a roguish-looking boy with a smear of ink across his cheek, was making eyes at a pretty young girl through the window and paid Hob no mind.

Hob shifted from foot to foot, futilely trying to capture someone's attention, but the only person who seemed to notice him at all was m'lord's brat, who was playing with a compass in the corner. The child stared at him insolently for a moment and then returned to his game. After an interminable wait, the gentleman concluded his business and swept out the door with his son in tow.

As soon as the door shut, Bartleby turned on the apprentice furiously, kicking him and pounding on him with his fists, all the while berating him for his laziness. The boy made no effort to defend himself, but merely took each blow with a defiant air that seemed to enrage his master all the more.

To see an idle apprentice punished was nothing exceptional, but the viciousness of this was too much even for Hob. Unwilling to stand by while the boy was beaten to death, he cleared his throat uncertainly.

Bartleby spun around and peered through clouded eyes. A sycophantic smile slid over his weathered face. "Why hello there, sir, I didn't hear you come in. How may we help you?"

Behind Bartleby, the apprentice grinned at Hob, his dark eyes glittering insolently. Blood dripped thickly down his chin, spattering the map he'd been working on.

Hob couldn't decide who was madder, the mapmaker or his apprentice. Muttering an excuse, Hob fled the premises and took his business to the Italian down the street. He was hard to understand, but at least he seemed sane.

2. Can I get there by candlelight?


Immortality hadn't sharpened Hob's taste for hangings. It was an ugly, sordid business -- if you've seen one man die, you've seen them all -- and he wasn't one to gloat on his good fortune in the face of another man's foul luck. He'd had no intention of attending the hanging, but his business with an old friend had taken longer than expected, and when it had concluded, Hob had been caught up in the crowd and swept to the foot of the gallows. The condemned was only a boy; a run-away cartographer's apprentice by the unlikely name of John Smith who'd stolen a compass and a map from his master when he ran.

The lad had a clever, self-possessed look about him, and when the bailiff finished reading the list of his crimes, he took a saucy bow. Hob knew him then; little wonder he'd run.

Perhaps there was some justice left in the world. When the hangman pulled the lever, the trap sprang open and the boy dropped. But instead of going taut and choking the life from him, the rope broke cleanly through, and the boy tumbled to his feet directly in front of Hob. With a wink and a nod, he was off, trailing the tail of the noose behind him. Hob would've thought that would make the boy easy to find, but he had it on good authority that neither the apprentice nor the items he'd stolen had ever been recovered.

3. Aye and back again.


Hob stood silently in the hidden room, afraid to so much as twitch until the pirates were done searching the ship. He'd be damned if he'd lose his stake, his opportunity to start over with clean hands, to a pack of thieves and scoundrels.

Running feet passed by Hob's hiding place, followed shortly by the heavier tread of boots. Someone kicked the bulkhead, and Hob winced at the hollow sound, sure he'd been discovered. Then he heard a woman panting and crying -- Mrs. Spence, the gunner's pretty wife. Clearly the pirate had other things on his mind.

"Please. . .No. . .."

A man laughed ominously, and there was the sound of cloth ripping.

Hob was on his feet, reaching for the catch, when he heard a third voice.

"You don't want to be doing that, mate."

"Plenty to go 'round; no need for you to horn in on my bit of skirt!"

There was a crack like wood against someone's skull, followed by the thud of a body landing against the bulkhead. Mrs. Spence's sobs were interrupted by a confused gasp.

"Strictly against the articles," the pirate explained cheerfully. "Still, the boys sometimes get out of hand. I'd suggest staying out of sight until our business here is concluded, aye?"

With a thoughtful hum, the pirate tapped the bulkhead several times in succession. Hob raised his pistol just as the secret door swung open, revealing a familiar face, now sporting a beard and mustache and as much eye-paint as any whore.

Smith stepped back in surprise and then, shaking his head, shoved Mrs. Spence into the room. As he slammed the door shut, he muttered, "Entirely too much skullduggery on this ship! How's a man supposed to conduct an honest bit of piracy?"

4. If your feet are nimble and light


There's nothing new under the sun. Hob had lived long enough to learn that. Still, even he was surprised to find himself once again at the foot of the gallows watching John Smith -- or Jack Sparrow, as he now seemed to be called -- preparing to die. Time had left its mark, and the pirate was considerably more ragtag than he'd been the last time Hob had seen him, but there was no mistaking the clever grin that Sparrow flashed at the charges.

"She catches up with almost everyone in the end," Hob whispered, shaking his head.

But it seemed that this wasn't to be the day that Jack Sparrow met Death. As Hob watched Sparrow's ship sail into the distance, he wondered if the man had nine lives like a cat or if he'd sweet-talked Death into keeping her distance. Hob would've dearly liked to learn Sparrow's secret, if only the man would hold still long enough for Hob to ask him.

5. You'll get there by candlight.


You never know who you'll encounter at the Inn at the End of the World. Hob was nursing a hot toddy and warming himself by the fire when a familiar figure blew in the door, looking even more worse-for-wear than he had the last time Hob had seen him. There was a ragged cut across Sparrow's cheek and his tattered clothes were covered in a foul slime, but he surveyed the room with equanimity and grinned as bravely as ever.

"Jack Sparrow!"

"Do I know you, mate?"

"You might say we're strangers of long-standing. Pull up a chair, friend, and let me buy you a drink."

 

 

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