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Squaring Accounts - Chapter 20

by Melusina

 

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

 

Death
Endings-Transitions-Inexorable Forces


Jack's primary concern was finding de la Cruz before the dark of the moon, when the priest's magic would be at its peak. With no better idea of where de la Cruz might be, Jack navigated toward Isla de Muerta, thinking to put himself between the Princessa and her goal, in the event that de la Cruz had been able to determine the location of the island using Jack's compass. The weather was stormy, but for a week the wind blew them unerringly toward the cursed island.

On the seventh day out from St. Pierre, the wind died and the ship was becalmed in the thick fog that surrounded Isla de Muerta. The sun was a pale silvery disc in the sky, and the crew piled on extra clothes against the unnatural chill that pervaded the damp air. Jack's intuition told him that de la Cruz was close, but how to find him? Rummaging through his desk, he discovered the ornate silver bowl that de la Cruz had used when he was aboard the Pearl, and hit upon a plan.

"Like calls to like," he explained to Elizabeth. With a large needle, he pricked the tip of her thumb.

Brave girl that she was, she barely flinched. Perhaps to distract herself, she quoted, "'By the pricking of my thumbs.'"

Jack squeezed gently, and counted out nine drops of blood into the bowl. "Something wicked's coming; there's no doubt about that."

Eager to be done, Will asked, "What next?" His distrust of magic ran deep; Jack was well aware that Will had only agreed to participate to keep an eye on Elizabeth.

"The water."

Will carefully poured the seawater into the bowl, and they watched as the blood turned pale pink. Jack floated the needle in the mixture, and it spun crazily: north, south, east, and then west, finally pointing south east of the island.

For a day, the wind again filled the sails, and the ship fairly flew through the water. Then, as the gibbous moon rose, the wind died again and the sea grew as still as glass. The water in the bowl became thick and befouled, and the needle sank.

Jack could feel the Princessa; she was somewhere in the darkness, and nearby, although he could see no sign of another ship. They could use the sweeps, but which way should they go? He was still pondering the problem at dawn when Elizabeth brought a cup of rum-laced coffee to the quarterdeck. As soon as she mounted the stairs, a slight breeze stirred the air; the closer she came, the more the wind seemed to blow.

Inspiration struck. "Elizabeth, take the helm."

When she set her hand to the wheel, a sweet gust of wind billowed in the sails. Jack took a step back and the wind increased. In vain, Elizabeth tried to keep to the course Jack had set; the ship seemed determined to follow a new route. Going purely on intuition, Jack called out, "Close your eyes."

With a violent splash of seawater, the ship turned. Elizabeth's hand was light on the wheel, and it was impossible to tell if she was steering the ship, or merely follow its lead. Then she opened her eyes, and the wind died, as suddenly as it had come.

"Close your eyes!" Jack repeated urgently, pulling the scarf from his head. He wrapped the length of cloth around her eyes, and the wind swirled around them both, sending their hair and the ends of the scarf flying.

Jack brushed a kiss across her cheek and backed away. "Give her her head." He could feel the ship picking up speed with every step he took.

*


Elizabeth stood tall and proud at the helm, with her hair blowing wildly in the wind. Something about her posture seemed unfamiliar to Will, as if she were someone else entirely, and he would have gone to her, had Jack not explicitly ordered him to stay off the quarterdeck. Instead, Will busied himself assembling a boarding party. If the magic worked as promised, this battle would be fought hand to hand, rather than with the guns, and Will wanted the most reliable men at his back when he boarded the Princessa.

Jack balked at only one of Will's picks. "Not Harry. If that damned Wickham's over there--"

"Harry's one of the most capable men on the ship; we'd be mad not to put him where he can do the most good." Jack started to disagree and Will, his nerves frayed with worry, snapped, "Am I or am I not the quartermaster of this ship? I won't be your puppet, Jack. If you don't trust my decisions, remove me from the position, but don't quibble with my every judgment!"

Jack grew very still and looked off into the distance. "It's your call, Mr. Turner; I'm certain that whatever you decide will be for the best." He winked, and Will, stunned into silence, reckoned that this was as much apology as he was likely to get.

*


Elizabeth could not have said how long she stood at the helm -- time had lost all meaning. She felt as if it were her very body skimming over the waves and as if she were soaring in the wind that drove them forward. Her ears rang with the song that Madame Reynaud had sung, and she hummed it to herself as they raced onward.

Gradually the ship slowed and the wind died. She pulled the blindfold from her eyes, but her vision was cloudy and distorted. The rising sun tinted the fog rosy pink, and there was a dim shape off the port bow that rapidly resolved itself into another ship. A sulfurous smell hung in the air, and from the Princessa (for surely this was she), Elizabeth could hear a man moaning and screaming, in obvious agony. The broken words were English, of this she was certain, and she shuddered to think what was provoking such a dire sound.

On the Pearl's main deck, most of the crew was assembled and Jack was holding forth. They gave a great cheer, and Elizabeth felt her sense of herself diminishing, as if someone else were controlling her body. She could hear someone else's voice coming out of her body -- a rich, heavily accented contralto, but she couldn't distinguish the words.

Jack stared at her inscrutably and then offered her a sword. It felt light in her hand, and Elizabeth felt her lips curving into a vicious grin. Beside Jack, Will blanched and looked away. Elizabeth wanted to reassure him, to tell him that she was still herself, but she was shrinking away, until, like a candle, her awareness was snuffed out entirely.

*


James shuddered as Elizabeth stalked by, moving with a strange feline grace. In her wake, the strange symbols that the women had marked on the ship (which had faded entirely in the rain) reappeared, glowing with a silvery light. She seemed taller to James, and more prepossessing, and her pupils were so dilated that her eyes appeared entirely black. His movement seemed to call her attention to him; she gave him a slow, predatory smile, and James felt as if she might easily devour him whole. He prayed that whatever had usurped her body was on their side and that Elizabeth would return to herself when the battle was won.

There was a clap of thunder, and the Princessa, shimmering with a golden light, appeared out of the fog and glanced against the side of the Pearl with a sickening crunch. One of the Spaniards tried to scrabble across to the Pearl, and Elizabeth swung her sword with deadly accuracy, severing his hand from his body. Blood spurted across her face and the sailor plummeted into the water. As if this had been the signal to begin, a great babble of voices swelled up, and a wave of Princessas attempted to board the Pearl.

Over the clamor, Will was shouting orders. He was the first to jump across to the Princessa; James followed right behind, and was immediately caught up in the fight. The deck was thick with Spanish sailors. He couldn't see what was happening on the Pearl, although he could hear Sparrow shouting orders and a woman -- not Elizabeth, although surely the voice was coming from her body -- screaming a savage war cry.

James slashed and hacked determinedly, with little sense of who was winning, resolutely trying to ignore the feeling of dread and horror that simply being on this ship seemed to engender in him. The foul rotting smell had intensified, and a horrible moaning sound, like the screams of the damned, overlaid his senses; when he found himself at the capstan, he discovered its origin. Wickham, his eyes still horribly alive, was stretched and bleeding, suspended from the spokes. It was a kindness when James slit his throat and put an end to his misery. For all that the man was a traitor and a heartless bastard, James wouldn't have wished that torment on anyone.

After that, the tide of battle seemed to turn. The deck was no longer so crowded, and James could see Will on the quarterdeck, wielding two swords against the gargantuan Moor. Content that Will was holding his own, James turned back towards the Pearl, Will, but found his way blocked by de la Cruz.

All traces of de la Cruz's composure were lost. His shirt was torn and bloody, dark circles rimmed his bloodshot eyes, and his beard was flecked with spittle. He was shouting in Spanish, speaking too quickly for James to translate his words, although he caught something about "my son" and the word "sword." De la Cruz waved his blade erratically, threatening to do as much damage to his own men as to James. He lunged, but James blocked the thrust easily, slicing de la Cruz's arm. The injury seemed to restore some of de la Cruz's wits, for he began to fight with more cunning. However, James still had the advantage, and was able to force de la Cruz against the capstan and knock the sword from his hand. De la Cruz pulled a small dagger from his waist and dove for James' throat with a guttural cry; James merely held up his sword, and de la Cruz impaled himself on it, the force of his leap driving it through his body. James had to duck his head to avoid the dagger striking him in the face.

By the time James had extricated his sword from de la Cruz's body, the cacophony of battle had quieted. The remaining Spaniards were laying down their weapons, and the Pearls had clearly taken the ship. James turned to see how those on the Pearl fared.

James' heart stopped when he saw Elizabeth and the priest grappling together on the forecastle. Her shirt and breeches were plastered to her body with gore, and even her face was red with blood. His hands were likewise incarnadine, and his black cassock billowed ominously in the wind.

Too far away to be of any use, James watched in horror as the priest pressed his stone knife closer and closer to Elizabeth's throat. She had lost her sword; James was certain she was about to die. Yet, as James watched in disbelief, she turned the priest's hand and, with inhuman strength, drove the blade into his neck. A chilling laugh rang out, a sound from a nightmare, and she dragged him to her to taste the spurting blood before shoving him backwards into the ocean. She thrust the knife into the air triumphantly, and then, like a puppet with its strings cut, collapsed bonelessly onto the deck.

 

 

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