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Allegiance - Chapter 11

by The Stowaway


Off Lacre Punt, Bonaire, nine days later

The winds had favoured them; they had made good time to Willemstad and found everything ready, according to the plans made on their previous visit. Jack had gone ashore alone and spent a busy afternoon, calling first upon the Governor and then at the fort.

Governor van der Groot had received him privately, to the vast annoyance of others who had been waiting far longer for a moment of his time. When Jack was shown in, the Governor leapt to his feet and came forward with his hand extended. "Jack, you rascal," he cried, in his heavily accented English, "So you have come back!"

Jack laughed as he took the proffered hand. "How could you doubt me, Pieter?" he smiled, "After all these years I should think you'd have learnt a little trust."

Van der Groot snorted amiably. "When pigs fly, my old friend. After watching your escapades out East for so long, I have learnt rather to count my fingers after shaking your hand. When I think about that time with the Rajah and his pearls…!"

Both men laughed again. "Curse your good memory," Jack replied. "But confess - when were you ever the poorer for helping me?"

"Never yet," the Governor admitted, pouring wine and waving Jack to a seat. "And this time had better be no different. This operation will be costly."

"You'll recoup your costs, as we planned," Jack said, "if you fulfill your part of our bargain." He toasted his host and drank.

"Ja, ja, never you worry, all is prepared," van der Groot nodded, drinking in his turn. "The decoy ship is in place, careened in the north shore of the lake. It was about to be scuttled - too full of shipworm to be saved - so it's a small loss. And the crew has prepared her as you suggested."

"Good," Jack smiled, "Excellent. And the Navy?"

"Two ships of the line are ready to sail as soon as you give the word," the Governor replied. "Are you certain you will succeed in taking Barbossa with this ruse? I am running a big risk, getting the Navy involved."

Jack looked grim for a moment. "Oh yes, the bastard will fall into our trap. For too long, he's been used to thinking of himself as invincible. It has made him careless." He brightened. "Stop fretting about your precious Navy, Pieter! Unless Fortune plays me a jade's trick, they will do no more than stand by and watch. Oh, and take all the credit with the merchants guild, when they claim the reward for killing Barbossa." He winked and the Governor laughed.

"That is well," van der Groot said, "Let us drink to Fortune, then. May she smile upon us!"

"To Fortune," Jack cried, tossing back the last of his wine. "And now, my friend, I must be about my business. We sail this evening. I want our ambuscade to be in place well before dawn tomorrow."

"Good luck, Jack," the Governor said, wringing his hand. "Someday you must show me this Pearl about which you have told me so much; I am eager to make her acquaintance."

"I shall, Pieter," Jack replied, "Word of a … privateer."

Laughing, they had parted. Jack had gone next to the Fort and ascertained that it was indeed as van der Groot had told him; two Navy ships were ready to sail with him to Bonaire. He had gone once more over the plan with the Dutch captains and then had returned to the Lazarus in high spirits.

They had sailed at sunset and dawn found them just to the west of Lacre Punt, the southernmost tip of Bonaire. Sorobon and the lake where lay the supposed treasure ship were less than five miles up the eastern side of the little island - here barely four miles wide.

All the morning, they watched the shore for a signal. At last in the afternoon a tiny fishing boat came dancing out to meet them, carrying the news. The Black Pearl had been spotted just north of Sorobon. Their messenger related how he and his brother had watched as a boat had been lowered and been rowed into the mouth of the lake, whereupon it had returned speedily to the Pearl.

"That's it, then," Jack had said, at the end of the tale, when the messenger had been sent off with a generous reward and final instructions for the crew of the decoy, "Barbossa will wait until full dark to attack. We'll round the point as soon after sunset as may be." He signaled to the Dutch and saw to final preparations aboard the Lazarus.

At sunset, Jack had the whole crew assembled on deck. With Gibbs and Anamaria at his side he addressed them briefly. "As most of you have no doubt guessed," Jack said, "we are not going after a treasure ship this night. Indeed, that ship is an empty hulk - bait in a trap I've set with the help of our Dutch friends yonder." The men stared at him and waited. Some grinned in anticipation. "The bait has been taken by a far fatter prize and we are about to spring the trap. Tell me," Jack said. "Do you know of the hoard on Isla de Muerta?"

Every one of them nodded. "Aye," they said, "What of it?"

Jack grinned. "In a few hours, lads, it will be ours. Tonight we take the Black Pearl."

He was answered with a roar compounded of astonishment, hilarity and greed. They all knew, of course, how Barbossa had taken the Pearl from Jack years ago and were not surprised that he should be bent still on taking her back. It was the effrontery of his methods that delighted and amused them. A ragged cheer went up as he sent them back to their stations. They would be rich men before the night was out!

As the swift tropical dusk faded, the Dutch hoisted sail and, following Jack's lead, rounded the point and sailed northward to Sorobon. They ran without lights, as they wished to avoid notice until they were in position.

Meanwhile, at full dark Barbossa had moved the Pearl into the lake, as Jack had predicted. There was an element of cunning in his foolhardiness in entering a place with but one exit; he planned to make short work of the crew of the treasure ship and then to lie in wait for the Lazarus just within the mouth of the lagoon.

"We'll set a trap for Sparrow," he told Will. "Once we've the treasure safe aboard, we will wait for him to join our little party."

"And then I kill him," Will replied without looking up from the sword he was sharpening.

"If you're man enough," Barbossa laughed, noting with pleasure how the younger man's shoulders tensed at the taunt. "Succeed and the Lazarus is yours. Fail," he shrugged. "And I give the task of avenging your father to another."

"You wouldn't dare," Will muttered, clenching his fists on the hilt of the sword and glaring at the deck. "Sparrow is mine."

"Two days, boy," Barbossa replied. "I calculate Sparrow will arrive in two days. You'll have your chance. Now, go muster your landing party to stand by the boats; we're almost ready."

Once the Pearl had the supposed treasure ship in range of her cannon, she cast anchor and lowered the boats with great stealth. Into them went nearly the entire crew, led by Will. As they rowed in, they could see the cook-fires of the camped sailors and the occasional shadow of a man passing between those fires and the shore. There was no alarm given. The raiders appeared to be undetected.

This was, however, not the case. The decoy crew, having been warned by Jack's messenger earlier in the day, had, as ordered, decamped inland, leaving but a handful of men to complete preparations for the reception of the buccaneers. It was these few brave souls that were seen moving about so coolly around the fires. Before the first boat touched the shore, they had all slipped away on the land side of the careened ship and were making their way inland to join their mates.

While the attention of the pirates - those on the Pearl as well as those in the boats - was focused intently upon the 'treasure ship', Jack had brought the Lazarus into the lake, leaving the Dutch warships outside the mouth to prevent any escape, should his plan miscarry. He moved silently into the lagoon, carrying just enough sail to give steering way, waiting for the opportune moment.

The pirates poured out of the boats and raced up the beach, yelling and brandishing their weapons, only to come to a puzzled halt at the edge of the deserted encampment. They began to search the canvas lean-tos and a few of them even clambered onto the ship in search of the missing crew. But their search was perfunctory, despite Will's orders to be thorough, for a great heap of what appeared to be chests lay a few dozen yards further up the beach, covered with tarpaulins; it drew their attention and most of them raced to uncover the 'treasure'.

Will shouted for them to come back but they ignored him. They had just begun yanking the covering off the pile when the first of the slow matches left by the departed crew reached the powder kegs beneath the canvas.

The night erupted with a thunderous roar as a series of tremendous explosions blew the false treasure to smithereens. The smoke and flames shot a hundred feet in the air, illuminating the scene with terrible clarity. The blast wreaked dreadful havoc upon anyone so unfortunate as to be nearby. Indeed, Will and the handful of others who had been on the ship or near the water were the only ones to escape unscathed. Cursing and screaming they ran, dodging the rain of shattered wood, flaming canvas and other more grisly fragments, to see if any of their mates had survived.

Before they had gone more than a few steps, the sound of cannon-fire behind them brought them around with a jerk. From the flashes they saw that someone was firing on the Pearl from further out in the lake. The light of the fires ashore dimly lit the scene, but even without that aid Will could see the answering flash as the Pearl returned fire; her response slow and ragged. There were too few left aboard to man the guns adequately.

"Men, to me," he roared, and ran for the boats.

Aboard the Pearl Barbossa, alone on the quarterdeck, had watched the decoy explode with horrified comprehension. Instantly, he saw the trap into which he had fallen. He shouted an order to man the starboard guns against attack, but his words were drowned in the roar of the broadside from the Lazarus.

"Return fire, damn you to hell!" he bellowed at the men still standing. "Hold them off or we're lost." He cursed them as they staggered across to the cannons; too slow, too late. He looked again at the shore and saw the boats putting off, again too slow. If Will had survived, he was too far away to save him.

When the explosion and fire ashore had lit up the lake, the Pearl had stood out in stark relief against the leaping flames. Jack, who had been awaiting this moment, and who was - by a combination of skill, audacity and sheer luck - exactly where he wanted to be, pulled the Lazarus's head around and fired a broadside, catching his quarry entirely by surprise. He'd had the guns loaded with grapeshot and ordered them to fire high and, as he'd hoped, this took a toll of the pirates, who were all on deck to watch the action ashore. He then gave the order to man the grapples and, before the Pearl could fire off more than two shots, he had her fast and he was leading his men over the bulwarks.

The fight on the main deck was brief. The remnant of the Pearls, demoralized by twin disasters, was easily overpowered and killed or disarmed. Barbossa drew his sword and stood unmoving as he watched the bitter overset of his lovely plan. Damn Jack Sparrow to Hell, he thought. And damn Will for failing him this way. But hope did not quite die; he knew himself the deadliest swordsman alive - save Turner, if indeed he still lived - and he might at least take Sparrow with him.

Jack, meanwhile, leaving the crew to his men, dashed for the quarterdeck where his enemy waited. The light from shore, where the fires had now spread to the beached ship, painted Barbossa all down his left side with a reddish glow. His sword gleamed, its point steady.

They wasted no breath on words but set to at once. Barbossa fought with every iota of a skill made yet more savage by desperation. But, as good as he was, Jack was better. For more than ten years Jack had waited, honing his skill, for this very moment.

Back and forth across the quarterdeck they fought; attack, parry, riposte, counter-riposte. Jack pushed Barbossa hard, attacking faster and faster until on one lunge, Barbossa's parry came an instant too late and Jack's point - deflected from the heart - drove deep into his shoulder.

"That's for my Pearl," Jack said, through his teeth. He yanked the blade free and pressed forward. There would be no quarter offered.

Barbossa's breathing was becoming laboured; he was bleeding heavily. He gave ground, parrying slower and no longer attacking. Once again he was too slow and Jack thrust him clean through his left arm.

"That's for Bootstrap," Jack snarled, advancing relentlessly.

Barbossa bit off a cry. With his left arm useless, he was off-balance and slowed still further. His enemy's eyes gleamed in the hellish light like chips of obsidian and he read his death in them. And still he fought, his parries becoming wilder and more desperate.

Suddenly, Jack beat aside his blade and lunged at full stretch. His sword caught Barbossa in the left side, entering between the ribs below the heart and piercing both lungs before the point emerged from his right shoulder.

The dying man sagged forward onto the blade, his own weapon dropping from his twitching hand. Jack stepped back, and let Barbossa slide off his sword and to the deck, where he lay gasping and coughing up blood. Barbossa struggled to speak but his lungs were filling and no words came.

"And that's for me," Jack said softly. He stood without moving and waited while Barbossa drowned in his own blood. It was a death neither quick nor easy and Jack watched the prolonged agony with grim satisfaction. Then he wiped his sword on the dead man's coat and turned to the main deck.

"The Black Pearl is ours," he cried and his men cheered.

"Captain!" Gibbs cried, pointing toward the shore, where the remainder of the landing party was rowing madly across the lake toward the Pearl.

"Fire when ready, Mister Gibbs," Jack replied coolly.

His men dashed to the guns and, finding them ready, paused only to adjust the aim and fired. The shots missed the oncoming boats but they were seen to put about and head back to the shore. Despite continued fire from the Pearl they made it to the beach unscathed and the pirates dashed up the beach and into the darkness beyond the fires.

********

Will cursed his mates as they put about and fled, but they ignored both his orders and his pleas, pulling hard for the shore. When he went for his sword he was restrained, struggling and swearing. "You whoreson cowards! It's Sparrow!" he cried, throwing himself about so violently that he nearly upset the boat, "The Pearl! To the Pearl! Are you deaf?"

A shot splashed into the water between the fleeing boats, drenching all with spray.

"The Pearl's lost, Will," they told him, again and again. "It's over. If we go back there we die."

At last their words penetrated his battle-rage and he stood quiet in their grasp, staring back at the ship, which was still firing upon them. It was true, the battle for the Pearl was over; the defenders were dead or captured. She could not be retaken with the twenty men who were all that remained of the shore party.

Will shook himself free and nodded. "Then we will avenge her," he said. The boats had reached the shore by now and he leapt out. "Follow me," he cried, as, drawing his sword, he led the way inland.

**********

Aboard the Pearl Jack had given orders for the lanterns to be lit both there and on the Lazarus and had sent up a signal to the waiting Dutch warships. He had the handful of surviving Pearls locked in the brig. Then the few of his own crew who had been wounded were tended and made comfortable.

"Let no mention of the captives be made to our allies," he ordered. "I've a better plan for them."

When the Dutch entered the lake and learned that two boatloads of pirates had escaped, they sent men in pursuit, if with scant hope of catching the fugitives. They also took charge the bodies of Barbossa and the other dead pirates, as Jack had agreed with van der Groot. "To hang in chains in Willemstad," they explained. "as proof that the reign of the Black Pearl is over."

The two Dutch captains would claim the reward from the Willemstad merchant's guild for killing Barbossa and split it with van der Groot. This was the agreement by which Jack had obtained both their assistance with the decoy and permission to operate in Dutch waters. They got the gold, he got the Pearl. In balance, he was well satisfied, since he and his crew also got the treasure of the Isla de Muerta, about which he took good care to tell his Dutch friends nothing.

It was shortly after dawn that the search party returned with the crew of the decoy, having failed to find any trace of the escaped pirates. The warships then made haste to depart. It was their intention to sail round the island, one to the north and one to the south, warning the towns and settlements of the fugitives and perhaps, with luck, catching them.

Jack saw them go with relief; he was done with allies and eager to be about his own business. Through the night he'd had men working to remove all traces of the battle from the Pearl. His choice of grapeshot for the broadside, and the high line of fire, had been deliberate. It meant that very little damage had been done to the ship herself, save to the rigging. By sunrise the decks were cleaned of blood and most of the rigging repaired. There were weeks of work yet to do, for the ship was filthy and ill kept. Jack's heart burned as he went over her from stem to stern and from the topmasts to the bilges. His beautiful Pearl had been cruelly mistreated. He wished he had Barbossa back, so that he could kill him again - more slowly. He set men to mucking out the main cabin, throwing  Barbossa's effects overboard. Jack wanted all trace of the usurper removed and the ship cleansed of his taint. After breakfast, as the sun rose high, Jack called the whole crew to a meeting on the main deck.

"Well, gentlemen," Jack said from the quarterdeck, "here we are with two ships." The crew cheered and Jack bowed. "It will come as no surprise that I intend to take command of the Black Pearl." His hand caressed the quarterdeck rail as he spoke.

"Therefore, I shall need a new captain for the Lazarus. Seeing as Mister Gibbs is quartermaster, the honour rightly belongs to him. But he has declined it, preferring to sail with me on the Pearl." Jack smiled at Gibbs, who grinned back and waved him on.

"Next in line for the new command, of course, is the first mate. Not to mention the fact that I… er… owe her a boat," Jack said with a slight cough.

"Damn right," Anamaria was heard to mutter. The men standing nearest chuckled until reduced to silence by her fierce glare.

"Accordingly," Jack continued, pretending not to notice, "I hereby appoint Anamaria captain of the Lazarus. Three cheers for Captain Anamaria!"

The crew cheered with a will. No man who had ever sailed with her or fought by her side would dream of questioning her fitness for the post, nor would they cavil at being commanded by a woman. She had earned her place and their respect was given freely. When the last Huzzah faded, Jack went on.

"There are enough of you to crew both ships sufficiently well, even though we'll be a bit short-handed until we sign on a few more men. Before we do that, it is my intention to sail for the Isla de Muerta to lay claim to our treasure," he said. Some cheers broke out and he raised his hand for silence.

"I shall put it to a vote, however. Shall we take our treasure first - which will mean standing double watches now and again - or do we go to Tortuga to take on more crew first - and share the treasure amongst more men? Which is it to be, mates?"

"Treasure!" they cried, "Give us the treasure first!"

Jack grinned. "Now why am I not surprised?" he wondered aloud and the crew roared with laughter. "Very well then; Captain Anamaria, if you will be so good as to join me, we shall work out our crew assignments and sail on the next tide."

"What about the prisoners?" someone shouted.

Jack's smile turned sardonic. "Oh, yes," he replied, "On our way to Isla de Muerta we'll be passing near a certain godforsaken spit of land on which I was once set down by the late Captain Barbossa and the men now occupying the brig. It seems only fitting that we maroon them in the same place, eh lads?"

There was a general laugh and someone said, "You're a hard man, Captain."

Jack bowed once more and turned to speak with Anamaria who had joined him on the quarterdeck. It took them very little time to divide the crew between the brig - which Anamaria had rechristened the Fury - and the Pearl.

Once all the Pearl's new crew had shifted their gear, Jack put them to work cleaning and polishing until the tide turned and the two vessels set sail.

********

Will Turner looked down on the quays of Kralendijk and swore. The sloop they wanted was moored at the end of the nearest - a perfect craft for twenty men - but there was too much activity around her. He swore again. The sun had barely risen and yet the dock swarmed with sailors and slaves, loading cargo and preparing to sail.

It had been a long night. They had made their way clear across the island to this little port on the western coast - perhaps 7 miles in a straight line, although they had walked much further due to the need to give all settlements a wide berth. Indeed, they had passed too close to one hamlet and a dog had begun to bark. The inhabitants, roused by the noise, had fired upon them in the darkness and an unlucky shot had killed one of their number.

"What do we do now, Will?" someone asked.

At least, Will thought, the men still followed him. Together, they stood a chance of winning free; singly, none at all. He surveyed the scene below them once again.

"We must move fast," Will said at last. "Whoever helped Sparrow set that trap last night will be after us. We need a diversion." He thought a moment longer.

"A fire in the warehouses… that might do it. Tom, Billings  - go down and see if you can't set one. The rest of you, we will make our way to the seaward end of that farthest shed."

The others had begun to grin. "Aye," they said, "And once the fire's well away, we take her and run for it. Good thinking, Will."

Tom and Billings slipped down the hill, angling away from the quay and the others watched until they disappeared in the alley between two warehouses and then crept down to crouch behind a heap of old casks as near as they could get to the sloop.

There they waited for what seemed like hours until at last a cry of "Fire!" arose far down the docks. They listened without moving as the outcry grew and the sound of running feet swelled and then receded as every man rushed to help with the fire. At the same time the two fire-starters rejoined their mates, dashing half-crouched along the backs of the buildings facing the harbour.

Gesturing for the others to remain hidden, Will moved cautiously around the barrels until he could see the length of the quay. It was deserted. He ducked back with a grin. "Now!" he cried, and they leapt up and ran for the sloop.

There was not a soul on board. They cut her loose and shoved off. Will sent men forward to set the jibs to give them steering way. As they cleared the quay they raised the main and the little sloop seemed to leap ahead. There was no alarm yet from shore and they were well beyond musket range. Will put the helm over and headed southwest, running before the breeze, intending to pass south of the islet of Klein Bonaire. Looking back he could see figures racing up the quay, gesticulating wildly. They had been spotted at last, but already the tumult behind the sloop was growing dim. They had done it; they were free.

Past Klein Bonaire, they headed northwest for some hours, until Bonaire itself was but a vague blue cloud on the horizon astern. Will then brought her around just north of east, sailing as close to the wind as she would go. He turned the helm over to one of the men and proceeded to inspect their prize thoroughly.

She was an island-hopping trader. Her hold was full of a miscellany of goods from calico to ironmongery. There were a few small kegs of rum - the cause of some rejoicing among the crew - and the galley was well stocked. She was armed, but barely; two five-pounders were all her arsenal. Will shook his head. They would rely on her speed in any case. They were hardly in a fit state to fight anyone. In the captain's cabin he found a strong box with two hundred gold pieces. Gold. That gave him to think. What were they to do, now?

The Pearl was gone. Gone. Even yet, Will could hardly grasp it. And with her more than fifty men - his mates. The Pearl had been his home for so long now that he barely remembered any other. He loved her deeply although that emotion was not unalloyed; for in recent months she had been for him a prison and a living hell. And here he stopped his restless prowling and stood, eyes a little wide, as the thought occurred.

Barbossa. Will's heart gave a bound. Barbossa was gone - dead or captive, it mattered not; if he were not yet dead he soon would be. Dead, Will thought, and in Hell. Never again would he hear that hateful voice in his ear gloating and taunting. Never again would he be broken and forced to a pleasure so foul… his stomach heaved. His legs abruptly failed him; he sat on the bunk and buried his head in his hands.

In all the time of his torment - nearly two endless years - he had not wept, but what despair could not achieve, freedom had done in moments. Will sat silent, shoulders heaving as he struggled to control himself. His tears fell with faint ticks to the wooden deck and he thanked his luck that he was alone in the tiny cabin, for what the crew would make of this unmanly lapse he dared not think. Perhaps they would think you mourned him, his mind whispered. He was startled into a laugh; the utter absurdity of it stopped his weeping and he was able to pull himself together. "Enough," he muttered, and stood, wiping his face on his sleeve.

The question remained; what were they to do? What was he to do? Regain the Black Pearl, of course. But how? He would need a ship, or more than one, heavily armed and well manned. For that he needed… gold. His eye fell on the opened strong box with its two hundred pieces and he shook his head. It would take many times that amount to raise the necessary forces.

Very well then, their first destination would be the Isla de Muerta. At least they still had that. They would bring off enough of the remaining treasure to buy what they needed to hunt down the Pearl and take her back. And Captain Jack Sparrow would die.
 

 

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