The Queen of Kryos (tenacitydrader) wrote,
The Queen of Kryos
tenacitydrader

Challenge 12



Nine

It was late when Norrington departed from Governor Swann’s house. Although he was tired, he remained alert and kept one hand on the hilt of his sword. He doubted that anyone would harass him, but it paid to be ready. Also, he couldn’t shake the feeling that someone watched him.

As he passed by a tangle of shrubs under some palm trees by the side of the road, he heard a voice.

“Psst, oy, Commodore, I mean er…Mister Norr— quit pokin’ me you stupid git!”

Norrington stopped in the road and squinted into the bushes, which shook with the ill-concealed people who tried to summon him. “Show yourselves,” Norrington said sternly. The rustling stopped and two scruffy men appeared, looking down at the ground. “Oh no, not you two,” Norrington moaned.

Pintel and Ragetti held their hands behind their backs like truant children. Pintel looked up. “We was on a mission, sir,” he said.

“Indeed,” Norrington said dryly.

“That’s right,” Ragetti piped up. “It’s…uh…paramount!”

Pintel looked at him. “How come you sound like a bleedin’ idiot ninety-nine percent of the time, and a damned Oxford graduate the other one percent?”

“And ‘ere you said sums gave you a headache!” Ragetti giggled inanely.

Norrington rolled his eyes. “I don’t have time for this.” He turned from the ridiculous pair and started to walk off.

“No you don’t, not when Lord Beckett lays dyin’ from a voodoo curse,” Pintel said.

“That’s it, all right,” Ragetti said. “No time a-tall.” He giggled again.

Norrington stopped with his back to them.

“Tia Dalma says it’s time to pay up what you owe her. A life for a life, she said to tell you.”

“Life for a life.”

Norrington’s heart dropped. He turned back around and faced them. “Very well,” he said, “you have my attention.”

“Hey, it worked exactly like she said it would,” Ragetti said.

“Shut up,” Pintel growled, glaring sideways at him. “Let me do the talkin’, all right.”

Ragetti looked mollified.

“What exactly does she want?” Norrington asked, although he was fairly certain he already knew the answer.

Pintel smiled once more. “We can’t talk here,” he said.

“Well, we can’t talk anywhere else either,” Norrington said, annoyed. “I can’t be seen with you two. You’re both known pirates. Besides, you needn’t worry; there’s not a soul around.”

Pintel scowled. “Fine,” he said. “Tia Dalma said…” he closed his eyes as if trying to recite a speech. “Lord Beckett lives or dies by your hand now. You need to bring her the heart of Davy Jones, or she’ll end his life, easy as blowin’ out a candle, she says.”

Ragetti mimed blowing out a candle in his cupped hands, and then smiled with his tongue out.

“What on earth does she want with it?” Norrington asked.

“Well, Jack’s got eaten by the kraken, see,” Ragetti said. “An’ now ‘e’s on ‘is way to the Underworld and Tia Dalma wants ‘im back.”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Pintel said, “Yer tellin’ it wrong. Cap’n Barbossa, ‘e’s alive too an’e wants the Black Pearl back, and let the Devil take Jack Sparrow. They’re goin’ to sail to the end of the world, where Hell is and they can’t do it wivout the heart of Davy Jones.”

“Or a ship,” Ragetti added. “Your ship, sir, to be…specific.” He looked mollified once more as he realized the enormity of the request.

“So she wants me to sail the Huntress to her island, pick up her and Captain Barbossa and let them take my ship to Hell?”

“Well, it ain’t jus’ them. There’s Gibbs an’ Cotton, an’ Marty, o’course an’ others of the Pearl,” Ragetti said.

“An’ us too.”

“An’ Will Turner. An’ Miss Elizabeth.”

“An’ you too, if ye want.”

Norrington raised an eyebrow. “You’d allow me on my own ship? How magnanimous of you.” He sighed. “And when is this ill-fated voyage supposed to occur?”

“Tia Dalma said there weren’t a moment to waste,” Pintel said, “We need to sail on the morning tide.”

Norrington glared at them. “Very well. I take it the pair of you intends to sign onto my crew. Is that correct?”

“That’s right,” Pintel said.

“Well then, you’ll have to renounce your life of piracy and accept the King’s pardon.” Norrington smiled at their devastated expressions.

“But you need us,” Ragetti said.

“I assure you I don’t. I know the location of Tia Dalma’s island and can find it quite well without your help. You have discharged your message most admirably, gentlemen, but your presence is now unnecessary.”

They gaped at him. “So you’re just goin’ to leave us here in Port Royal? We’ll be hanged,” Ragetti said, his remaining eye widening.

“That’s your misfortune,” Norrington said, “But I never said I’d leave you behind. I’m willing to accept both of you as my loyal crewmen, provided that you abandon your pirate selves. You’ll find that I’m a very fair, if strict captain, and I daresay a better captain than Jack Sparrow. And your necks would no longer be under the threat of the hangman’s noose.” He turned to leave. “Take it or leave it, gentlemen. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a better offer from anyone else.” He started down the road once more, greatly amused.

“Wait, Captain,” Pintel called after him. Norrington stopped and turned to see the two of them running up to him.

“We’ll do it,” Ragetti said.

“We’ll go straight, as it were,” Pintel added.

“That’s a wise decision,” Norrington said. “Follow me back to my ship and we’ll make it official.” He started walking away once more and Pintel and Ragetti fell in behind him. He led them around the outskirts of town, as he still was not fond of the idea of being seen with them, so soon after his reputation was beginning mend. He led them to the docks, and then onto the Huntress herself (smirking as he heard Ragetti’s stage-whispered comment: “This is sure nicer than the Pearl”).

He brought them to the captain’s cabin, where he lit candles and rummaged for paper and a quill while they stood in front of him and fidgeted. While they waited, he drew up their contract. “What’s your full name?” he asked them in turn.

“Francis Pintel.”

“Matthew Ragetti. Two T’s in the firs’ name. An’…an’ two T’s in the second name too. It’s I-talian. An’ English, too.”

Norrington nodded without looking up. He finished the contract and drew three straight lines at the bottom, writing the word “witness” below the last. “I assume that the two of you don’t know your letters, and so I shall read this out loud. ‘I, Francis Pintel, and I, Matthew Ragetti do hereby abandon the trade of piracy henceforth. I will not engage in such activities that could be considered piratical in nature, including but not limited to: theft, rape, murder, forgery, kidnapping, burglary, assault, brutality, blasphemy, and general lawlessness. I declare myself a citizen of the British Empire and a loyal subject of her Sovereign, King George.’ Is there anything the two of you wish me to add?”

They shook their heads seriously.

“Very well. Make your mark, gentlemen.”

They each wrote an X on the lines, one above the other. Norrington took the parchment last and signed it in his flowing hand. Ragetti looked on longingly. Norrington caught his look and did a double take. “What’s the matter, Mister Ragetti?” he asked.

Ragetti looked away with his one eye. “Nothin,’ sir,” he said.

Norrington looked at Pintel and Ragetti. “Now I am not such a fool as to think the two of you will actually take this seriously,” he said, tapping the paper. “However, I find that once men sign contracts, they are more likely to keep their word. Moreover, if you break the contract, it gives me legal grounds to hunt you down and hang you from the yardarm.” He looked from one to the other. “There’s nothing worse than an oath-breaker in my book. Pray God it never comes to that.”

Their eyes widened.

Norrington softened the smallest bit. “Don’t fret, gentlemen. I’d like to put my faith in you. I’ve seen you work aboard the Pearl. You’re both fair enough sailors. Do as you’re told and stay respectful, and you could find a place aboard this ship.” He folded the parchment. “Now, go and seek out the boatswain or the quartermaster and see if there’s not something you could be doing to facilitate our departure. You’re dismissed.”

“Aye, Cap’n.”

“Aye, Cap’n.”

They saluted him smartly and exited the cabin. When they shut the door, Norrington laughed. It was his first real laugh in God only knew how long and it felt good. He took out the contract they had signed and it just made him laugh all the harder. Then he put it into a drawer and sat down, growing serious as he contemplated all that he had heard.

The intelligence they had delivered certainly did answer a lot of questions. He rubbed his eyes and sighed. It didn’t seem fair that his very first voyage after returning the heart of Davy Jones would send it right back out again. On the other, hand, as far as Norrington was concerned, the heart had already bought him back a command, so who was he to complain?

He stood suddenly and strode out of the cabin. He passed the word for his officers to come see him at once. Within a few minutes, they came to him, such as they were. He still had no first mate, no lieutenants, no surgeon, no navigator, no sailing master, no carpenter, no cooper, and no master gunner. So the only people who showed up were the sergeant at arms, the boatswain, and the quartermaster. He told them only to make swift preparations to sail at dawn and to send someone to his room at the inn to gather the rest of his things. He did not elaborate on the mission; he needed to see Beckett before anything else.

He went ashore once more and made all haste to the East India Company Headquarters. He told the steward that he needed to see Lord Beckett urgently.

“I’m sorry, Captain, but milord is at his rest and won’t be disturbed.”

“What I have to say could save his life,” Norrington said.

“I have my orders, sir,” the steward answered.

Norrington pushed past him.

“Captain, I must protest…”

“Protest if you wish, but I mean to see Lord Beckett, not to argue with his lackey. Tell him I overcame you or hit you or otherwise assaulted you if you wish, but do not hinder me, or I’m afraid one of those options will become the truth.”

That stopped the steward and he allowed Norrington to walk down the hall, up the stairs and to Beckett’s room. Mercer was posted outside, sitting in a chair and cleaning his nails with his dagger. As Norrington approached, Mercer put a finger to his lips.

“I must see Lord Beckett,” Norrington whispered, “Please wake him. It’s regarding the heart of Davy Jones.”

Mercer said nothing, but stood, sheathed the dagger and entered Beckett’s room. Norrington waited, rocking back and forth on his feet. In a moment, Mercer came out and jerked his head once more for Norrington to go in. Norrington went into the room, his eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness.

“Captain,” Beckett said hoarsely from the bed, “You’d better have a good reason for waking me.”

“Milord, is the name ‘Tia Dalma’ familiar to you?” Norrington asked, pulling up a chair by the bed and sitting down.

Beckett sighed, which turned into a fit of coughing. “No,” he finally lied.

“Are you certain?” Norrington asked. “She’s an island native, maybe this tall.” He gestured with a hand. “She knows some voodoo, or so it’s said. I only ask because a few days ago you mentioned that ‘she’ had cursed you with her powers and that was why you were sick.”

“I may have been delirious.”

Norrington sighed. This would be more difficult than he had thought. “Milord, I promise that you weren’t delirious about this. You said that you had wronged her and now she was seeking revenge. You even said you had dreamed of her. Now, what I’m about to tell you will seem farfetched, even in that context, but if you give her the heart, she’ll let you live.”

“How do you know?” Beckett asked warily.

“She sent emissaries, two of them. I’m to get the heart and take it to her. In exchange, she’ll spare your life.” Norrington realized how outlandish it all sounded, but rather than looking doubtful or contemptuous, Beckett looked as if he actually believed it. “I, too, have met her, milord,” Norrington went on. “I have witnessed her powers. That’s how I know that whatever you’ve dreamt of as it regards Tia Dalma is not delirium, but truth.”

Beckett smirked. “She did warn me,” he said. “It didn’t occur to me to pay much attention.”

“Forgive me, milord, but what exactly did you do to evoke her wrath?” Norrington couldn’t help but ask.

Beckett turned his head and stared at the ceiling. “I didn’t love her,” he answered. “This was maybe ten years ago, and we were both on a tiny spit of land called Isla Cruces. She’d see me around town and she’d make eyes at me. This went on for some time, but I didn’t reciprocate, mind you. So one night, she used her powers to seduce me to her bed. Then, in the morning, she said she wanted to be my wife, but of course I wouldn’t have her. That’s when she cursed me.”

Norrington nodded. “I see.”

“So now I suppose I must choose self-preservation over owning the ocean. Pity.” Beckett sighed. He turned his head toward Norrington once more. “Fetch Mercer.”

Norrington stood and did as he was told. Mercer came back in with him and stood over the bed.

Beckett looked at him. “Go and get the heart of Davy Jones for Captain Norrington.” Mercer nodded and left the room once more.

“You know, Captain, until the beginning of this wretched week, I thought of myself as a man of reason, too pragmatic and well-educated to believe in things like voodoo.”

“But what about the heart of Davy Jones, milord?”

Beckett smiled. “Ah yes. I suppose that it defies any sort of science that a man’s heart should beat independently of his body. Your point is well taken.”

Norrington returned his smile. “I daresay it’s natural for a man to deny the possibility of becoming the victim of a curse,” he said. “Self-preservation indeed.”

Mercer returned with an ornate wooden box, which he handed to Norrington without a word. Once again, Norrington could hear the slow and familiar thump coming from within.

“The heart is yours once more,” Beckett said. “Don’t let my trust in you be for nothing, Captain.”

“I’ll see this through, milord. You have my word.”

“Very good. You’re dismissed, Captain.”

“Thank you, milord.”

Norrington tucked the box under his arm and walked out. As he made his way back to the docks, he briefly considered calling on Governor Swann once again, to see if he wanted to get a message to Elizabeth, but then thought better. Norrington could fairly well predict anything the Governor would say to Elizabeth, just as he could fairly well predict her reaction.

He stepped back onto the Huntress just as the sky was beginning to lighten. He went to his cabin and locked the heart in one of his chests. He spent the next hour or so organizing his things into his cabin and making last-minute preparations for the voyage until he saw the sun break the horizon. Then he went out onto the quarterdeck and watched his crew at work. The day was fair and a good breeze was blowing. Norrington breathed in deeply. This was what he had been born to do and although he was going to chart a course for the land of the dead, he had rarely felt so alive.

Ten

Davy Jones was in a terrible mood. Bootstrap Bill had finally choked out that his son was most likely the one with the heart but he didn’t know where he was, even though at the time Davy Jones was throttling him with his claw. As he walked below decks on the Flying Dutchman he heard a noise and whipped around sharply, his tentacles dancing.

He heard the noise again, a groan of sorts. “Her…” a voice said. It was Wyvern, who’d speak nonsense if he’d speak at all. Davy Jones ignored him and turned to stomp off in the other direction. “Dalma,” said Wyvern, his voice rusty and low. He pried himself away from the wall with a crunching sound. Bits of coral and shell shattered and fell on the floor.

“What did you say?” Davy Jones growled.

“Davy Jones lost his heart long ago to Dalma,” Wyvern said, his eyes faraway.

Davy Jones scowled. “Is that who has my heart now? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

“No. Dalma broke the heart that beat inside the chest, then the chest was opened and the heart removed. Taken. This way and that, and now the heart returns to her who broke it.”

“When?”

Wyvern closed his eyes and leaned back into the coral-covered wall, which locked his head back into place once more. Then Wyvern was still.

“When, damn you, when?” Davy Jones asked impatiently, although he knew no answer would be forthcoming. His blue eyes darted back and forth and he stomped back in the direction he had come from. He went back up onto the deck and yelled to his crew, “We make sail for the bayou, you maggots.” They all began talking at once and rushed to do their assigned tasks.

Davy Jones went below to his cabin, where he took out the chest that had at one point contained his heart and opened it. Now all it contained were letters, written to Dalma but never sent. He wrote them after he had met her, one letter per day, signed and sealed, all notes of love and undying devotion, now just painful keepsakes of a star-crossed and all-too-short love affair that had become his slow death. Davy Jones closed his eyes.

A few weeks after his rendezvous with her, he heard from passing ships, whose crew he tortured for information that Dalma had been captured by pirates, specifically, by one Captain Barbossa of the Black Pearl. Furious, Davy Jones knew he couldn’t sic the kraken on the Pearl, lest he accidentally put his love in harm’s way, so he planned a stealth rescue in the middle of the night, just him alone while his crew followed the Pearl under the water. After he had Dalma, he could then call the kraken and destroy Barbossa and his crew.

The moon was full and made the hull of the Black Pearl shine in sharp relief against the bright blue of the ocean as Davy Jones watched it from beneath. He left the Flying Dutchman and then climbed up the hull of the Pearl and over the rail, carefully evading the guard shift. He sneaked around to stern and made his way to the captain’s cabin, where he heard Dalma’s soft laughter. The door was ajar and a sliver of golden light poured out onto the dark floor outside the cabin.

He pushed the door all the way open. “It’s me, Dalma, it’s Davy—“ he felt his own voice die in his throat as he saw her once more. She was not alone, nor was she clothed. Davy Jones stood for a moment, unable to move, then turned and walked out, numb with shock.

“I’ll be righ’ bahck,” he faintly heard Tia Dalma say to her companion. Davy Jones turned around and waited for her. She came out dressed in only a blanket. “Daveh, wait,” she said.

“I loved you,” he said, his voice shaking. “I thought you’d be mine.”

Tia Dalma shook her head and looked down wearily. “I nevah syaid dat. An’ I am sorry if you t’ought dat. I woul’ have tol’ you wheah I was going, but I had to leave Isla Cruces very quick.”

Davy Jones shook his head. “That’s not what this is about,” he said. “That, I would have understood. But, this—“ He pointed to the door she had just come out of. “I can’t share you with someone else. I just can’t.”

“Den we cannot be wid each othah,” she said sadly. She jerked her head at the same door. “He understan’ dat. I don’ wan’ to be owened. I t’ink you’re a good mahn, Daveh Jowens, an’ I’ll nevah forget what we had, but you will nevah understan’ dat I cannot be yours or anywahn else’s alowen.”

“I wrote you letters,” Davy Jones said brokenly. “Love letters.” He turned from her and walked back to the rail of the ship. He jumped back into the ocean and swam slowly back to the Flying Dutchman. He didn’t know such pain was possible, and yet he didn’t have it in him to call the kraken down on her. The pain of his broken heart did not diminish over the next few days, the next few weeks, or the next few months. It just seemed to grow. He couldn’t get her face out of his mind.

He lay in his bunk night after night, drinking himself to sleep and listening to his music box. One night, he decided that he didn’t want to feel anymore, and that even if it killed him, he would cut his own heart out and put it somewhere that it couldn’t be damaged any more. For a time, it was safe and buried on the now-abandoned Isla Cruces, a place he always saw as fitting. But now someone dug it up and brought it to the very person who had broken it in the first place. Knowing that at the very least gave him a small measure of leverage. He shut the box of letters and stood, then made his way back up above decks.

Eleven

Tia Dalma and Barbossa shared her bed in the back of the house every night. He wasn’t hers, as she wasn’t his, and she had had many men since meeting him, but she loved him most. She leaned over and kissed his scarred cheek as he slept, then lay in the crook of his arm, content as she remembered back to their time on the Pearl.

After she had started to recover somewhat from her horrific ordeal with Beckett, she spent more and more time with Barbossa. He showered her with gifts: jewels, curios, European-style silk gowns, and her favorite: his wicked grins. They were perfect for each other. He could make her laugh like no one else, and she in turn provided him with kindness and affection.

She even took on the job of ship’s surgeon for a time. Those had been some of the happiest days of her life. After the first time they made love, they both said they loved the other. “I’ll not marry ye, though,” Barbossa said as they lay together in her house between voyages.

“As if I’d let you,” she retorted.

“But nor do I wish to lose ye,” Barbossa said.

“Mmm…” Tia Dalma thought for a moment. “I know a mahgic dat will bine us so we cannot be los’ to each othah.”

“Truly? I’m intrigued, my dear.”

Tia Dalma propped herself up on an elbow and looked down at him. “Well, it has to be done during a full moon.”

Barbossa nodded. “Of course.”

“An’ de priestess, me dat is, I go into de dream worl’ wid you an’ I sew our hearts togethah wid mahgic twine an’ den when one of us is lost, de othah can pull bahck on de twine an fine’ him.”

“So, yer assumin’ I’m the more likely one to be lost, is that it?” Barbossa smiled at her.

Tia Dalma punched him in the arm playfully. “No, but now dat you say it…”

“Does it extend beyond death, even?”

Tia Dalma frowned. “I don’ know. I don’ know if it has evah byeen tested. I t’ink it depends on how strong de love is between de two people.”

Barbossa looked into her eyes. “Then we should have no trouble cheating death.”

Tia Dalma leaned down and kissed him. The full moon was a week after that and Tia Dalma spent that week in preparation. It was also during that week that Barbossa told her about the Isla De Muerta’s treasure.

“A chest of gold, it is said, with close to 1,000 pieces,” Barbossa said, his eyes glowing with excitement. “And not pieces of eight, either, nothin’ so trivial, but foreign coins, each one the size of a doubloon.”

Tia Dalma found that she could not match his enthusiasm. She understood that he was a pirate and as such, would not be able to resist such wealth as that. Nonetheless, her intuition warned her that his going after the treasure would be catastrophic. However, she said nothing of her misgivings to Barbossa, as she knew it would only frustrate him. In order for the ritual to work, they needed to be in perfect harmony, even if only for the night of the full moon. Perhaps she could confront him upon its completion.

Soon, the night of the full moon was upon them. They met by the pool as such powerful magic must be done out-of-doors. She brought all the things she would need in a canvas bag, which she dumped out on the ground. She brought out some home-brewed hallucinogenic potion in a dusty bottle. “Dis,” she said, brandishing it at Barbossa, “dis will let us slip into de othah side.” She uncorked it and took a swig. She had mixed it with rum to mask the bitter taste, but it was still foul. She tried not to make a face before handing it over to Barbossa.

Barbossa knocked the bottle back and almost spat out the contents. “This be the Devil’s own urine,” he said, coughing.

Tia Dalma smiled. “T’ank you. I made it special.” Already, she could see Barbossa’s aura pulsing around him like living fog.

Barbossa squinted at her. “You look…” he trailed off.

She ignored him and got out the other things she needed, a small and very sharp knife, a shallow dish, two needles and some thin white satin ribbon that Barbossa had plundered from a merchant ship a few weeks back. He watched her blearily and tried to hand the bottle back. “No, you mus’ have more. It is hardah for you to go to de othah side dan it is for me.” Barbossa gave her a look of suffering and choked some more of the potion back. Now he looked around as if animals were darting around his feet.

Tia Dalma cleared her mind and started chanting the incant. She could see the world fading in her peripheral vision, becoming darker and darker despite the moonlight beaming down through the trees. All she saw was the knife, the ribbon, the needles, and the dish. She picked up the knife first, stood, and faced Barbossa. “Look at me,” she said deeply. Barbossa’s eyes went blank and he stared into her face.

She opened his shirt to where his heart was and felt its constant rhythm. Chanting, she put the knife to his chest and drew it to the side in a deep, but not fatal cut. A drop of blood welled out and started to run down his ribcage. He didn’t flinch; in fact, he didn’t move. He was now between the tangible world and the spirit world. Tia Dalma unlaced the bodice of her gown and felt her own heart. She cut next to her breast, wincing at the sharp pain. She bent down and grabbed the dish, letting her blood drip into it, then held it under her lover, until the bottom of the dish was covered. She set the dish back on the ground.

Then she took the ribbon and threaded it through both of the needles, one at each end. Chanting still, she drew the ribbon through both their blood, over and over until it was completely covered. Then she stood, came back over to Barbossa and embraced him, their hearts beating together. They were both on the very edge of the pool and she leaned toward it, still embracing him. “Close your eyes,” she said. Still entranced, Barbossa did so. Tia Dalma closed her own eyes, and focused on the spirit world. She could feel it just out of reach.

They both fell into the pool. Tia Dalma opened her eyes underwater. It was pitch black, but not wet. She still had hold of Barbossa and she said the incant to bring them all the way through to the spirit world. In a moment, the two of them came out of the water, falling in reverse, until they stood on the bank once more. It was a pale reflection of the world they had just left, and completely quiet except the beating of their hearts.

“Open your eyes,” Tia Dalma said, letting him go. Barbossa opened his eyes once more and blinked, disoriented. Tia Dalma still held ribbon, threaded between the two needles. The ribbon was no longer a blood-soaked piece of satin, but a crimson line of light that pulsated between one needle and the other. Tia Dalma handed one needle to Barbossa, who looked stunned. She smiled at him reassuringly. “Ready?” she asked. “Don’ worry, it won’ hurt.”

He nodded and looked at her chest. She looked down. Her body was nebulous and translucent, and her heart shone in pulsing red light, just as the ribbon did. “Repeat aftah me,” she said. She reached out and pushed the needle into Barbossa’s heart, creating a ripple of light. “Wid dis line, I bine me to you. Shoul’ you be los’ to me, I cahn fine you. Shoul’ you drif’ away, I cahn bring you bahck.” As she said the words, she pulled the needle through, over and over, three times. “Even if I cannot see you, you’ll be dere.” She detached the needle from the ribbon and tied it off, then stepped back slightly.

Then Barbossa did the same as her, speaking the words with a measure of awe in his voice. When he finished, Tia Dalma could feel his heart beating even though he didn’t touch her. Their pulses moved like waves across the bright line, where they hit each other and came back in bright ripples. Tia Dalma moved close to Barbossa once more and embraced him. “Time to go bahck,” she said. He wrapped his arms around her. She leaned over the pool once more and they fell in.

Again the pitch darkness closed around them and again they fell in reverse, coming out of the real-world pool so they stood on the bank once more. She opened her eyes once more. The moon shone down in the forest, making the pool into a bright mirror. No ripple marred its surface.

Barbossa backed away from her and blinked at her blearily. “So, that’s that, is it?” he asked.

Tia Dalma smiled at him wickedly. “No, not quite,” she said.

“Ah? What else is there then?”

“We mus’ make it stick wid one more ritual.”

“Really? And what might that be, missy?” He returned her wicked smile.

“Lie down an’ I’ll show you,” she said.

Their joy in each other was short-lived. A week later, he and the crew of the Black Pearl headed for the Isla de Muerta. She finally did share her worries with him before he left, and although he didn’t react as badly as she had feared, he wrote them off as superstitious and sailed despite them. Although he invited her to come with them and see for herself, she refused and opted to wait for him. She had been gone too long from her home as it was and needed to reconnect with her people.

He returned several weeks later, much changed although at first, Tia Dalma could not pinpoint how. Barbossa was happy to see her, but darkness haunted his eyes. As they reunited in her bed later, the pleasure seemed to be all hers. When they had finished, she asked him what was wrong.

“Nothin’, love. I’m just tired is all.”

She looked at him worriedly, but he just leaned over and blew out the candle. She sighed and lay beside him. He lay on his back and stared at the ceiling. She watched him for as long as she could until eventually sleep took her. She awoke in the middle of the night. Moonlight spilled across the bed. She did a double take and then screamed as she beheld the exposed bones and rotting flesh that had been her lover’s face.

Barbossa awoke immediately and slid out of the moonlight, becoming familiar once more, but the damage was done. Tears poured down Tia Dalma’s face. Barbossa tried to comfort her, but she pushed him off, beating at his chest with her fists.

“I tole you not to go,” she screamed at him over and over.

“I know…I know,” he said, holding her shoulders until she calmed somewhat and leaned into him, crying. He held her just as he had on her first voyage on the Pearl until she cried herself to sleep. He held her all night and she woke up in the bleak morning, her heart broken.

Barbossa didn’t stay long. They said a brief and toneless goodbye and Barbossa got into his boat and was rowed down the foggy bayou. Tia Dalma watched him go, then wiped the tears away angrily and turned away. She wouldn’t rest until she helped him lift the curse. Over the few months, she slept little. She delved deeply into magic and spent most of the time in a self-imposed, narcotic-fueled trance.

Barbossa came back after she finally figured out what would break the curse.

“All it will take all de coins an’ each of your blood bahck in de ches,’” she told him happily.

Barbossa sat heavily in a chair. “The money’s gone now,” he said, “All eight hundred an eighty-two pieces. It’s been gone for months. There’s also the problem of a particularly traitorous crewmember that saw fit to send just one piece off to his miserable spawn. Oh, I’d find out where he was, except now said crewmember languishes at the bottom of the ocean.” He shook his head.

Tia Dalma knelt in front of him and put her hands on his thighs. “You mus’ try,” she said earnestly, looking up at him. “You mus.’”

“Oh, must I? And how am I supposed to, may I ask?”

“Firs’ go bahck to Isla de Muerta an’ have everywahn in de crew put de blood bahck in de ches.’ Den, trahck de coins down, wahn by wahn.”

Barbossa smiled at her sadly. “I think that’s impossible.”

“No, not impossible. I t’will take a while, yes, but you mus’ try.” Her voice broke on the last word and she leaned her head down on his lap. He stroked her hair gently.

“All right, love, I’ll try.”

Over almost the next decade, Barbossa and his crew tracked each of the coins down. Then one night, she was awoken by a gunshot. She looked down at her chest and saw blood pouring out of a bullet hole. She felt suddenly cold and shivered, and then everything went black. She blinked and when she opened her eyes, she was back in her bedchamber. She felt tugging on her heart and knew immediately what had happened.

She got out of bed quickly and darted around her house, at a loss of exactly what to do. On one hand, she should be devastated because her lover was dead, but that only meant one thing to her: the curse was broken and she had waited way too long to give up hope. The Isla de Muerta was not too far from her own island. Before the Pearl had left on one of their trips, it had taken one of her nephews, Abasi, with them. Tia Dalma had pulled him aside and told him to bring Barbossa back to her if some ill should befall him and Abasi had agreed to do so.

So, unless Abasi was dead also, Barbossa would come back to her quickly. She spent the next few days preparing to go to the land of the dead and bring Barbossa back. Every day, the pull on her heart became stronger, as if the line between them stretched and stretched, straining on her own heart, as she was the anchor point in the land of the living.

Just as she had hoped, on the third night, Abasi rowed up the bayou with a body-shaped bundle, sewn up in a canvas hammock. Abasi was serious and withdrawn as he helped her lug Barbossa up into her house and laid him out on her bed, but Tia Dalma danced the line between hope and despair.

She took a dagger out and slit the hammock down the center, ripping it off Barbossa. Someone had closed his eyes and he looked as if he were merely sleeping. His chest had a gaping black hole in it from the musket ball. Tia Dalma let out a small cry and her hand flew to her mouth. Then she shook her head quickly as if to clear it and closed her eyes hard. She must not lose hope or she would never get him back. As if in reminder, the invisible line attached to her heart tugged her back into action.

She opened her eyes once more and flew from the room to gather up the ritual items she would need, along with a pair of long tweezers and her sharpest knife. She came back into the bedroom and put all the items on the bed. She leaned over Barbossa once more. Muttering to herself, she took the knife and opened the wound a bit more, then poked into it with the tweezers. She carefully extracted the bullet and sewed the wound shut as Abasi watched her silently.

She had brewed a special potion for this ritual that contained graveyard dirt, blood and hallucinogenic chemicals extracted from various local plants. It was pitch black and Tia Dalma had saved it for this and only this use. She knew it would stain her teeth black permanently, but it was a trivial price to pay if this worked. She uncorked the bottle and took a swallow. She was instantly pulled out of the world of the living. She could feel her heart slowing down as she floated through the oblivion between life and death.

She fell out of the darkness onto a beach. Rather than being composed of sand and seashells, it was made of tiny bones, as if all the mice and birds of the living world had died and left their skeletons. The sea was black ink and ended abruptly in a fog bank, maybe fifty feet offshore. Tia Dalma saw the line running from her heart out into the fog, pulled taut. She could only see her own pulse running one way along the line, which was a sickly pink in this world rather than the rich crimson it had been in the world of the living.

Tia Dalma started chanting and shook her hands by her side, then grabbed onto the line. It sent a jolt of electricity up her arms and she immediately let go. Her hands were numb and her arms tingled from the shock. She gritted her teeth and grabbed the line once more, this time holding on, despite the pain. It’s not real she reminded herself as she pulled.

The line gave a tiny bit and she pulled harder. Slowly, the line pulled inch by inch out of the mist. Her arms shook with the effort, but she persevered. “Shoul’ you be los’ to me, I cahn fine you. Shoul’ you drif’ away, I cahn bring you bahck,” she said over and over again. Now the line extended into the black sea rather than the fog. Eventually, she saw a pale figure under the surface of the featureless black sea. Her heart leapt as she recognized Barbossa. With one last heave, she hauled him onto the beach and fell next to him.

He breathed shallowly, but didn’t wake. Tia Dalma wept with joy and kissed his cold lips, then wrapped her arms around him and then closed her eyes. She started her chanting once more, then felt them sink between the sharp little bones of the beach, sliding between them down and down until fell through darkness once more.

Tia Dalma opened her eyes back in her room. Sunlight poured through the window and Abasi dozed in a chair. She lay next to Barbossa. Tia Dalma sat up abruptly and looked at him. He breathed shallowly and as Tia Dalma ran a hand over his chest, she could feel his heart beating beneath the sutures. She smiled at him and caressed his face with the back of her hand.

Although Barbossa was technically alive, he remained in a coma for months as his body and spirit slowly healed. He slept through Norrington’s rescue and through the first visit of the crew of the Black Pearl and for both of those events, Tia Dalma kept her mouth shut about Barbossa. Over the months he was unconscious, he gradually started to breathe more deeply and move on his own. The night after the crew of the Pearl had left on their quest, he had finally opened his eyes.

“Well, missy,” he said with a glimmer of his old mischief, “It appears love can endure past the point of death.” She gasped at the sound of his voice, then leaned down and kissed him. They made love for the first time in ten years and it was the sweetest love she had ever had.

Over the next few weeks, Barbossa recovered his strength and Tia Dalma scryed for the Pearl’s progress. She told Barbossa all that had transpired, and he had been less than thrilled about Jack Sparrow’s involvement. When he had heard of Jack’s death from Tia Dalma, he narrowed his eyes, calculating.

“Now, here be a thought, Dalma,” he mused. “I be thinkin’ we can get the Pearl back.”

Tia Dalma glared at him. “I t’ought it was your greedy self who got you into dis fyix in da firs’ place,” she said.

Barbossa waved his hand impatiently. “Here me out,” he said, and told her of his idea.

“Dat’s fine an’ good,” she said, “But we’ll need a shyip in ordah to get a shyip. An’ we need de heart of Daveh Jowens or else he’ll sen’ de kraken aftah us.”

That was how Norrington and the Huntress came into play. At this point, all of them were simply waiting for him. Tia Dalma rolled over and closed her eyes once more. Norrington would forgive her, and besides, Barbossa was alive and back in Tia Dalma’s life. That was all that mattered.

Twelve

The voyage from Port Royal to Tia Dalma’s island was fairly uneventful. Pintel and Ragetti blended into the crew very well and found the same camaraderie among them as they had found on the Black Pearl and then some, as their slate was clean with the crew of the Huntress. They were constantly busy as the ship sailed on this voyage with the barest of skeleton crews, but it made the time fly by.

“Besides, this ain’t a real skeleton crew, is it?” Ragetti never got sick of joking.

Pintel rolled his eyes and shushed him for the sixteenth time. “You’d better keep quiet about the curse,” he warned, “otherwise people might think you ain’t right in the head.” He shrugged. “O’ course, they’d be right, but still…”

On the first evening, Ragetti stood on the deck and attempted to read his battered Bible upside-down by the last few rays of the sun. He tried to make sense of the mysterious symbols that would reveal so much if only he could understand them. His remaining eye watered as he squinted at the black marks on the page. He was so absorbed that he didn’t hear Norrington come up behind him.

“What on earth are you doing, Mister Ragetti?” Norrington asked.

Ragetti jumped, then turned and saluted Norrington. “Nothin’, cap’n,” he said, staring at the well-scrubbed wood of the next to his dirty toes and hiding the Bible behind his back.

“Give it here,” Norrington said.

Ragetti sighed and put the book in Norrington’s outstretched hand. Norrington riffled the pages and smiled slightly. “I suppose our lack of a chaplain is felt by everyone,” he said to no one in particular, staring at the text. Then he looked up at Ragetti, who stole glances at him. “You wish to know your letters, don’t you?” he asked.

“More n’ anythin’, sir,” Ragetti muttered, gaze fixed on the deck.

Norrington nodded.

Ragetti shuffled his feet. “An’ if…if I may, sir. Stewart, ‘e says you taught ‘im ‘is letters an’ all. While you was in the brig like. An’…an’ I know I was a pirate an’ everyfin’, but I was jus’…jus’ wunnerin’ if maybe you’d teach me too?” He looked up, hope in his eye.

“Well, that was an entirely different matter, Mister Ragetti. As you’ve said, I was locked in the ship’s brig and had nothing but time on my hands.”

Ragetti looked crestfallen.

“However, I think I can spare some time for such an endeavor. I believe that men should make the most of their potential, regardless of who they are, or were, in your case. Come to my cabin tomorrow night between eight and nine bells and recite the alphabet. If you can do that, you will have proven that you may be worth my time.” He handed the Bible back, which Ragetti took reverentially.

That night, Ragetti traded his early watch for a later one with Stewart. When he had obtained that, he then traded his grog ration with Stewart in exchange for the alphabet. As they stood together in the crow’s nest, Stewart took him slowly from A to Z and then made him repeat it over and over, until Ragetti memorized it. He climbed down from the ratlines, repeating it over and over. He lay in his hammock and went through it again. He awoke the next morning and said it again as stood in line for his gruel.

“What’re you mumblin’ about?” Pintel asked grouchily.

“It’s the alphabet,” Ragetti said. “Cap’n’s goin’ to teach me how to read.”

“Well, aren’t you a royal arse-kisser?”

Ragetti ignored him and said the alphabet one more time. He was already beginning to figure out what certain words started with. His name started with an “R.” Pintel’s started with a “P.” Small as they were, these revelations were awe-inspiring to him. He went about his work cheerfully and diligently as he waited for eight bells to strike. He counted the last of the eight bells and dashed to Norrington’s cabin. He knocked eagerly on the door.

“Come,” said Norrington.

Ragetti opened the door and came in, saluting him.

Norrington was bent over a chart, studying it. He looked up. “Well, Mister Ragetti, what is it?” he asked.

Ragetti inhaled. “ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ,” he said in one breath. He beamed at Norrington.

Norrington smirked. “Very nice,” he said dryly. “Stewart no doubt appreciated the extra rum.” He stood and went to a chest. He dug through it until he found a dog-eared primer book. He slid it across the table to Ragetti. “Here. You can use that. Stewart is done with it. He’s a quick study. You’d do well to keep acquaintance with him.” Ragetti thanked him and put the book in his pocket. Norrington got out some loose parchment and a piece of charcoal. “Pull up a chair,” he said. Ragetti did so, and Norrington sat next to him. “Now, do you know what vowels are?”

Over the next half hour, Norrington taught him the fundamentals of written English and by the end, Ragetti knew “cat,” “rat,” “dog,” and other simple two- and three-letter words.

“You must practice, Mister Ragetti,” Norrington said, standing.

Ragetti stood also. “I will, sir. I’ll practice all the time. And thank you, sir.” He saluted Norrington and left.

Pintel caught up with him on the deck. “So, you n’ the cap’n eh?” he asked.

Ragetti glared at him. “Weren’t it your idea to get on ‘is ship in the firs’ place? Actually, I fink you were right about him an’ all. He won’t hang us”

Pintel sighed.

“An’ don’t worry, you’re still me bes’ friend,” Ragetti said quietly.

Pintel looked away. “I dunno,” he said, “Sometimes I just wonder what we’s doin.’ I mean goin’ straight an’ all. Just takes some gettin’ used to is all.”

Ragetti looked at him sympathetically. “It’s the right fing to do an’ you know it. It’s also our best prospect, an’ you know that too.”

“I know it.”

They were quiet for a moment.

“An’ I suppose the idear of sailin’ into Hell don’t cheer me none, neither,” Pintel said.

Ragetti sighed. “Well, that’s true, sure enough. But for what it’s worth, I’d rather sail wiv you than anyone else.”

Pintel smiled. “Yer a sappy muttonhead. That’s all you are.”

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