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Squaring Accounts - Chapter 6

by Melusina

 

Fandom: PoTC    Rating: NC-17    Dramatis Personae: Jack, Will, Elizabeth, Norrington    Full Header

 

 Justice
Understanding Cause and Effect-Acknowledging the Truth-Settling Old Accounts-Assuming Responsibility


The first few days at sea were as dull and ordinary as any James had spent. He'd half expected something between a tavern and a floating madhouse, given the nature of this crew, but they seemed much as all the other sailors James had known. Less disciplined, it was true, although Sparrow insisted they maintain his ship in fine form, and, surprisingly for a pirate captain, also demanded regular practice with the guns.

The Pearls were somewhat more debauched than a naval crew, but not so much as James had expected. When not on duty, they slept in the sun, or hunted rats for sport (Sparrow kept a fat white cat called Dinah, but she was a lazy, placid creature who had little affect on the rodent population). At night they drank and diced and played music; as like as not Elizabeth would be right in the thick of it, drinking and gaming and laughing with the men in her dirty breeches and shabby coat.

She was shameless, but nonetheless James found his anger at her diminishing. As outrageous as her behavior was, he had to admit that she had never pretended to be anything other than what she was. Perhaps it was gratitude for the role she'd played in his rescue or perhaps it was the renewal of his friendship with Will, which made James feel churlish for the spite he'd directed at Elizabeth, but he could no longer hold her happiness against her.

It took little time for James to begin putting names with faces. Gibbs, of course, he remembered from his days on the Dauntless. The dwarf was Marty; the mute, Cotton. The dark-haired boy who played the fiddle was Tommy, and his older brother, the champion rat-killer with the devil's own luck at dice, was Harry. Harry shared watch with Wickham, who had only been on the Pearl a few months. There was a whole contingent of towheaded Dutch sailors who spoke broken English; they all answered to Van Eyck, but their exact relation to one another was unclear. The only one James could give a Christian name to was the tall one with a peg leg who cooked most of the meals; the Dutch called him Lange Jan and the others called him Johnny.

The Dutch had little to do with the rest of the crew, but Johnny had a fondness for Tommy, who often helped him in the galley. Cotton and Gibbs were friendly and Harry and Wickham were quite a bit more than friendly, but Wickham was not well-liked, and he and Marty bristled at one another with some unresolved enmity. Sparrow seemed to be a popular captain, and to a man, the crew respected and admired Will. In his capacity as quartermaster, he was charged with divvying up the spoils and also with leading any boarding actions, and James suspected that Will's innate sense of fairness and reckless courage were well suited to this position.

Probably from some desire to further antagonize him, Sparrow had invited James to dine at his table with Will and Elizabeth, but James was uncomfortable with their camaraderie and familiarity with one another and preferred to take his meals with the common sailors. They were suspicious of him, but their almost superstitious respect for Sparrow prevented them from disobeying his orders that James not be interfered with, and they mostly ignored him.

The ship was recently provisioned, but the food they'd purchased was the same simple fare found on ships throughout the ocean, and the men were prone to complain (it seemed they were accustomed to fresh food and luxuries obtained on raids). Usually their grumbles were half-hearted, but when Wickham began to grouse, his objections seemed in earnest. "Not this slop again! There's nothing to it but onions and salt cod. I've had enough of this mess to last me a lifetime. . .Someone else should do the cooking for a change."

Despite the thick accent, Johnny's irritation was obvious. "You are folunteerink, Wickham?"

"Not me. I don't do women's work. How 'bout you, Cotton? I bet you could do a damn sight better than Johnny, even without your taster."

Cotton put his head down and continued shoveling in his stew. The parrot who accompanied him everywhere fluttered its wings and squawked, "Batten down the hatches!"

Not content to leave well enough alone, Wickham kicked Cotton's leg. "What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?"

James started out of his seat before he remembered that it wasn’t his place to enforce discipline on this ship. No good could come of this bullying, but nothing James could do would make it better, and given his own situation, he could make things much worse. Still, inaction sat poorly on him and he heaved a sigh of relief when Gibbs stood and fixed Wickham with a gimlet eye. "Speakin' of tongues, you'd best hold yours, son. Leave poor Cotton alone."

"I'm not afraid of you, old man. I could take you with one hand tied behind my back."

"Is that how Harry likes you? I wondered if you took the wife's part, but I never figured he had to tie you down for it."

Wickham's handsome face contorted into a snarling purple mask and he hauled off and punched Gibbs square on the jaw. Gibbs made a show of holding up both hands and cried, "Moses' Law! You saw him, boys -- he struck me. It's the lash for you, you dirty son of a bitch."

*


Administering discipline was Will's least favorite task; killing a man in the heat of battle was one thing, but flaying him to the bone was another. Not that Wickham didn't deserve it. He'd violated the ship's articles -- according to everyone present, he'd struck Gibbs with no provocation (something that Will found hard to believe, but Wickham was mum on the topic, and even Norrington had demurred to answer). Will had little doubt that Gibbs had maneuvered Wickham into hitting him, but he had no doubt at all that Wickham richly deserved the punishment, given his past behavior.

The night before the flogging, Will slept poorly, and woke with a heavy heart. Jack was already up and about and Elizabeth was still dreaming, her head buried under the sheets to escape the morning sun. Let her sleep, Will thought. There was no need for her to witness this bloody spectacle. Thus motivated to be done with it, Will threw on his clothes and headed for the main deck.

Without a word from Will, the crew circled around like vultures, and Henrick and Hans brought Wickham up from the brig. He struggled and swore, but was helpless in the grip of the two beefy Dutchmen, and they soon had him stripped to the waist and lashed to a grate. The men were muttering curses and epithets under their breath and the voices mingled together into a low, ugly wave of sound that washed over Will and set his nerves on edge. Jack stood on the quarterdeck, removed from the proceedings, watching Wickham with an unpleasant smile on his face.

When Gibbs handed the whip to Will, his eyes unconsciously sought out Norrington in the crowd. His rigid posture was unmistakable, and he met Will's gaze with a small nod. Some sympathy or understanding passed between them and Will stood up straighter and gripped the cat o' nine tails with a grim determination. As Jack liked to say, if it was to be done, 'twere well it were done quickly.

Will raised his arm, but before he could deliver the first blow, Tommy called from the rigging, "Sail ho!"

Overcome with relief, Will lowered the whip and asked, "Clear the deck for action, Captain?"

 

 

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