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Squaring Accounts - Chapter 7

by Melusina

 

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

 

The Devil
Ignorance-Bondage-Hopelessness-Despair


Elizabeth awoke to confusion and noise. She had been up too late, worrying about Will and listening to him toss and turn, and had slept most of the morning away. Before she could clear the fog from her head, she felt the ship heel hard to starboard and change heading. Were they giving chase or running from a pursuer? Looking out the stern windows, she could clearly see a Spanish brigantine moving fleetly through the water, her sails growing ever larger against the bright blue of the sky.

Remembering Gibbs' grumblings about Spanish privateers, Elizabeth hastily pulled on her clothes, located her sword, and made for the quarterdeck. Jack was there, shouting orders to the crew, and Norrington, watching the brigantine impatiently and looking very much at a loose end.

Suddenly, he stiffened and cried, "That's an English vessel -- the Wasp! She's under Captain Gillette's command. Is she flying false colors?"

Jack chuckled mirthlessly and handed Norrington his spyglass. "I don't think that's Gillette's ship anymore, mate. See for yourself."

Norrington peered through the glass intently, and said, softly, but with great feeling, "Damn."

*


This had never happened before. Will would have sworn that the Pearl could outrun any ship in the Caribbean, and, although Jack hid it well, Will could see that he too was surprised.

They had loosed every sail to the breeze, but the Spanish had the weather gauge, and were growing inexorably closer. In a show of bravado, Jack had insisted on a large breakfast, inviting Norrington to join them and share what he knew about the former Wasp.

The news was not good. The brigantine outgunned the Pearl; soon they would be within range of her cannons, and not yet able to retaliate. Norrington suggested a ploy, illustrating the ships' positions with the salt and pepper shakers, and to Will's surprise, Jack seemed to take it seriously, pulling his mustaches and mulling it over, and then carefully adjusting the pepper to account for a possible shift in the wind.

"Yes," said Norrington eagerly, "But if we can keep our lead until sunset. . ." He altered the relative positions of the shakers again, and Jack nodded sagely.

Elizabeth, who had been picking at her food in a desultory manner, was soon drawn into the conversation, which came to include the butter dish and three eggcups, standing in for a string of islands to the southeast.

Will had never had much of a head for navigation and the variables soon became too complex for him to follow. However they sliced it, an engagement seemed almost inevitable, and if it was going to happen, Will would just as soon get it over with. His thoughts strayed to Wickham, who had been returned to the brig after the aborted flogging. With battle imminent, was it fair to keep him locked up? If the ship were scuttled, he'd have no hope of escape. But if he were freed would he be a hindrance in battle? Will turned it over in his mind, and finally sent Tommy to tell Hans to release Wickham if things took a turn for the worse. No sense having the bastard underfoot unless it was absolutely necessary.

*


At breakfast, it had still seemed possible that they might elude the Spanish ship, but they'd had nothing but bad luck since. The brigantine had moved with preternatural speed, and once she'd had them in her range, the wind had died down to the faintest breeze. Jack had employed the sweeps, but when it became clear that flight was impossible, he'd sent the men to the guns instead.

Now the hellish cacophony of battle echoed in Elizabeth's ears as she raced around, responding to calls for more powder and shot. Tommy was hauling powder as well, and they repeatedly collided in the cramped, smoke filled gun deck. From above, she occasionally heard Will yelling over the din of the cannons, ordering the men to repel boarders. She clung to this small reassurance; so long as she could hear him, he was alive.

Through the gun ports, Elizabeth could see the Spanish jeering and taunting, and in the gloom beyond the guns, she caught a glimpse of a priest in a bloodstained cassock kneeling beside an injured man. The Spanish guns had done their work; the Pearl was gaining water, and Jack had been forced to pull men from their guns to work the pump. Finally, he took a gun himself, but before he could prime the fuse, there was a thundering crash, and a ball hurtled through the hull, narrowly missing Jack. The ship lurched as he jerked out of the way, and he slammed into a cannon with a sickening thud.

*


James fought as hard as any man on the Pearl, but with little hope that they'd escape capture. The Wasp was as swift as the Interceptor had been, and carried an impressive artillery for her size. But even James had been surprised at how quickly she'd gained on the Pearl -- he wondered if the Spanish had modified her in some way to increase her speed. He'd like to have known how she'd fallen into Spanish hands, and what losses had been incurred in that fight; it was frustrating to be so ignorant. Somehow James had managed to forget that while he was marooned, life in the rest of the world had proceeded onward, and the unpleasant realization made him wonder what other news he'd missed.

Twice the pirates fought off boarders, but they suffered significant losses with each attempt. The third time the Spanish swarmed over the gunwales, there were no longer enough men on the deck to repel their advance. James was fighting at Will's side when he heard someone shout, "Quarter!" The call was echoed many times, and in the babble of voices, James heard one of the Dutchman say, "The captain, he is killed!" Will faltered momentarily and his opponent kicked the sword from his hand. Despairingly, James lowered his blade.

*


The Spanish sailors rapidly assembled the much-diminished crew of the Pearl on the main deck. Gibbs, nursing a nicked ear, joined Will and James by the capstan. "I told 'im so," he muttered confidentially to James, "Although I'd rather not have been right in this instance." He might have said more, but a murderous look from Will quelled his complaint.

Gradually the Spanish began to roust the men from the lower decks, but there was no sign of Elizabeth. Will's face was pale and strained, and there was a lost, confused look in his eyes. James began to fear for his sanity, if both Sparrow and Elizabeth were dead.

Finally, just when James had given up hope, Elizabeth appeared, Sparrow leaning heavily on her arm. Will whispered, "Thank God," and rushed to them.

Elizabeth and Will flanked Sparrow, their heads leaned together. Envy twisted in James' chest; even now they clung to one another, as if nothing else mattered so long as they were together.

Their tête-à-tête was interrupted when the Spanish captain stepped on the deck, announcing, "I am Capitan de la Cruz of the Princessa de los Cielos."

The Spaniard was the picture of elegance: his black velvet coat showed not a spot of dust; his slender, aristocratic hands were lily white; and his English was impeccable, barring a very slight lisp. If James had not witnessed the fierce skirmish, he would have assumed the man had come straight from his valet. De la Cruz raked his eyes across the battered Pearls, contemplated James in a disconcerting way, and then continued to Sparrow, whose tatterdemalion attire and bedraggled appearance made a poor contrast to the Spanish captain's stunning perfection. "And you must be Jack Sparrow."

Sparrow took a halting step, grimacing as he did so, and James wondered if his leg had been broken. But as he watched, Sparrow stood up straighter, and bared his teeth in a savage grin. James was reminded of their first meeting on the docks in Port Royal; James hadn't realized it at the time, but that was a similar sort of performance. Sparrow excelled at the role, but familiarity had enabled James to see behind the mask.

"Captain. Captain Jack Sparrow, if you please."

De la Cruz gestured at the prisoners standing closest to Sparrow. "And these are your officers, I presume?"

"Aye, except-" James caught Sparrow's eye and desperately tried to convey how essential it was that he not be named as an officer of the Royal Navy. If the Spanish found the Commodore of the Jamaica fleet on the Black Pearl, apparently condoning his attacks on Spanish ships, they would have all the provocation they needed to start a war in the Caribbean. De la Cruz had no reason to believe James' story, and much incentive to discount it. Jack jerked his head a fraction of an inch.

"Except the lady, of course. She's a captive - took 'er off an English ship, and we're waitin' on a ransom." Jack leered at Elizabeth, and she made a passable imitation of injured femininity, but James could see that de la Cruz wasn't deceived by this ruse.

"Do you take me for a fool, Capitan Sparrow?" It is known throughout the Main that you sail with a pair of fiendish bitches who are as black-hearted and dastardly as the rest of your crew." Striking with the suddenness of a snake, he grasped Elizabeth's wrist and pulled her dangerously close to him.

Will started forward with a growl, and James only just managed to hold him back. De la Cruz wiped his thumb through the soot on her face, and peered at her coldly. Elizabeth held stock still, looking down her nose at him, as much the aristocrat as he, despite the grime that coated her face and hands.

He pushed her back at Will indifferently and cleaned his hands with his handkerchief. "Not a mulatta, so this must be the Governor's runaway daughter." He waved his hand. "Para ahora, llevadlos al calabozo."

*


No sooner were they in the brig than the mask slipped entirely, and Sparrow's face contorted in pain. From the opposite cell, Will and James watched as Elizabeth helped him to the floor. Will gripped the bars tightly with frustration and anger, and James felt an unexpected twinge of sympathy for him.

"Jack, let me look at your leg." James knew Elizabeth well enough not to expect feminine vapors and faints, but the grim practicality in her voice was something of a revelation.

"First things first, darlin'." Sparrow reached into his voluminous pocket and produced a small flask.

While he drank, Elizabeth began to ease his breeches down his legs. The fabric was stuck to his leg with splinters and dried blood, and what would no doubt have been a crude jest was cut off by a hiss of pain. The skin was torn and abraded and an enormous purple bruise was blooming on his thigh. Elizabeth brushed her fingers across it and Sparrow swore vehemently. It did seem that he could bend his knee, although the effort cost him dearly.

Will winced in sympathy. "Is it broken?"

"I think not. Just as well, since I have nothing to splint it with. But I should get these splinters out and bandage it up."

James forbore to mention that, the way things were looking none of them would live long enough to worry about the splinters festering in Sparrow's leg.

With Elizabeth's help, Sparrow struggled out of his coat and shirt. She shredded the worn shirt to a pile of strips, and began the painstaking task of picking out the slivers of wood, stopping often to mop up the blood that dripped from the deeper wounds. James had to admit that she was a competent and resourceful nurse. When her fingernails proved inadequate, she pulled a tortoise-shell pin from her hair and used it to tease the splinters out. Even with this tool, it was a slow, tedious process, and clearly quite painful for Sparrow.

No one spoke; the brig was silent except for the occasional grunt from Sparrow. It was miserably hot, and Elizabeth's grubby face was soon streaked white with sweat. James longed to take off his coat, but it felt ill-mannered to interrupt the vigil. Perhaps Will felt something similar, for he too stood by, unnaturally stiff and barely breathing, as if his concentration could somehow ease Sparrow's suffering.

Finally Elizabeth wrapped the bandages tightly around Sparrow's thigh and knee. "Keep it as still as possible -- that will help the pain."

Sparrow gave the flask a little shake. "No, love, this will help the pain."

In a surprising display of consideration, he offered it to Elizabeth, who refused to drink. With a small shrug, Sparrow settled back, and took a long pull on the flask, staring off into the distance. Absentmindedly, his hand slid over the boards, as if he drew some reassurance from the feel of the wood.

Will's fingers slowly slipped away from the bars, although his eyes remained fixed on Sparrow and Elizabeth. His stomach rumbled and James was immediately aware of how long it had been since breakfast. The sun was setting outside the tiny porthole, turning the waves a fiery red, and there'd been no suggestion of supper. With a sigh, he crumpled up his borrowed coat to make a pillow and leaned against the corner of the cell; if there was to be no food, he could at least get some rest.
 

 

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