honorat: (Jack Sparrow Confesses by Honorat)
[personal profile] honorat
Author: Honorat
Rating: R for violence and language and disturbing content
Characters: Jack Sparrow, Anamaria, the crews of the Black Pearl and the Defender
Pairing: Jack/Anamaria somewhat; Jack/Pearl definitely
Disclaimer: The characters of PotC! She’s taken them! Get after her, you feckless pack of ingrates!

Summary: On board the Defender and the Black Pearl things get even more complicated for the boarding parties. Who is going to end up with which ship? And what will happen between Banks and Anamaria? (Avoid finding out if your stomach isn’t very strong.) Every once in awhile, I have to write some raving sailing. Norrington has finally got the Black Pearl trapped. Jack is bound to do something crazy, but will it be the last thing he does?

Thank you so very much [livejournal.com profile] geekmama for the beta help

1 Ambush
2 No Regrets
3 The Judgment of the Sea
4 The Sea Pays Homage
5 Risking All That Is Mortal and Unsure
6 Troubles Come Not Single Spies
7 To Dare Do All That May Become a Man
8 Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
9 A Special Providence in the Fall
10 For Where We Are Is Hell
11 To Beat the Surges Under and Ride Upon Their Backs
12 One Equal Temper of Heroic Hearts
13 Though the Seas Threaten, They are Merciful
14 He Jests at Scars Who Never Felt a Wound
15 To Strive, To Seek, To Find, And Not To Yield
16 A Kind of Alacrity in Sinking
17 A Fine-Baited Delay
18 To Watch the Night in Storms
19a The Natural Shocks That Flesh is Heir To, Part 1
19b The Natural Shocks That Flesh is Heir To, Part 2
20 To Disguise Fair Nature with Hard-Favour'd Rage
21 Valour's Show and Valour's Worth
22 Between the Fell Incensed Points of Mighty Opposites

* * * * *

23 Mark'd for Hot Vengeance

As the two hulls jostled each other across the constantly narrowing and widening strip of sea that churned far below, the captain of the Defender stood with the stillness of ease and iron will by the port rail of the quarterdeck. He was a slender man of medium height, but imposing in his assurance. At least he hoped he projected sufficient calm confidence in spite of the battle he was waging with the overwhelming desire to pace and chew his nails. A commanding officer could not afford the luxury of nervous mannerisms—at least not where his men could see him.

His ship grunted and creaked reproachfully each time the waves brought the ravaged timbers of her dark opponent clashing against her. Like a rock in an incoming tide, the waterlogged Black Pearl rode lower and lower, so that in spite of her list to port under the weight of her fallen masts, Walton had a reasonable view of the activity on her decks. His eyes, grey as the sky, if considerably warmer, followed the movements of his men through the fine drizzle that was still descending.

The tension aboard the Defender had eased ever so slightly as the seizure of the Black Pearl proceeded without incident. Nevertheless, Captain Walton had not allowed his remaining crew to relax their vigilance. None of the searches had yet turned up any evidence that Sparrow had survived their bombardment, but neither was there a body as proof that he had not.

If the stories contained any grain of truth in them, a man could not congratulate himself on having eliminated Jack Sparrow until he had that slippery rogue dead and rotted at his feet.

Some men were like that—nigh impossible to kill, so fiercely clinging to their own survival that they seemed to have all of the lives of a cat combined with that creature’s ability to land on its feet no matter from what height it was hurled. Acknowledging the alchemical mixture of seamanship, daring, desperation and luck that had allowed the pirate to slip his ship from the jaws of the original trap that had been set for him, Captain Walton paid Sparrow the tribute of not dismissing him now. If the man was still on his ship and among the living, he would be that most dangerous of animals—a predator cornered and fighting for its life.

Not for the first time, Captain Walton wished he were in any condition to lead his boarding party himself.

* * * * *

Alexander Walton had accidentally achieved his first command of a ship during a particularly grueling firefight with a French privateer when a cannon ball had neatly removed the head of his captain and left him, the first officer, to extricate the ship and crew from what was proving to be a losing battle.

He had unexpectedly managed to turn defeat into victory while refusing to leave the quarterdeck in spite of a length of iron bar driven into his hip. Returning to Port Royal with his prize, he’d scarcely been conscious let alone triumphant. When he could think at all, he had imagined he’d also just achieved his last command.

Nothing in his life ever turned out as he expected.

He had questioned, if not Commodore Norrington’s sanity, at least his judgment when his young commanding officer had breezed into his dingy sickroom with the light of the sun on the sea in his eyes and a set of orders confirming Walton’s rank as Captain in the Royal Navy. His feeble protests that he was incapable of walking out of the house let alone taking command of a vessel had been met with Commodore Norrington’s politely implacable disbelief. Surely no officer of the King’s Navy would let himself be routed by a handful of clucking old women and avaricious horseleeches.

“I have,” the Commodore had informed him, “as sweet a little brig as ever a man sold his soul to command, floating in the harbour awaiting her new captain. If an officer of your caliber cannot outwit Mistress Beedle and her ilk and present himself inside of a month at her commissioning, I tremble for England. There are dastardly pirates to chase, French pretensions to suppress, and the glory of England to uphold. I need men with brains, not legs, to accomplish these. Legs are what we keep minions and midshipmen for.”

“Begging the commodore’s pardon,” Walton could not keep the grin off his face, “but if England is really serious about quashing piracy and walloping the French, she will appoint Mistress Beedle to the Admiralty House post haste.”

That had surprised a rare crack of laughter from the commodore. “You may have a point there, Captain Walton. I shall be sure to mention it to them at the earliest opportunity.”

Against his own expectations, Walton had limped aboard the Defender to take command of her 100 feet of hull, her 18 six-pounders and two swivel guns, and her 110 officers and enlisted men, just as Commodore Norrington had ordered.

But the wreck that remained of his left hip had relegated him forever to ornamenting the quarterdeck rather than leaping between ships with his pistol drawn.

* * * * *

Moving to another vantage point with the limp that was so much a part of him he scarcely noticed it anymore, Captain Walton considered the status of his seizure of Jack Sparrow’s ship.

If his men aboard the Defender were more relaxed, such was not the case aboard the Black Pearl.

On one of his circumnavigations of the prize ship’s decks, Lieutenant Armstrong had confided across the few feet separating the ships that he’d never seen the men so spooked. “If I’m not careful,” he had grumbled, “I’ll have two parties come around a corner and open fire on one another.”

The humours of the Fates being what they were, several minutes later a shot rang out on the Pearl, electrifying the occupants of both vessels and sending Armstrong boiling down a hatch in a cloud of profanity that could have stripped the decking off a lesser ship.

When he reappeared, Armstrong was followed by two marines supporting a sheepish-looking sailor with blood dripping from his foot. Having successfully disposed of his unfortunate crewman across the planks to the Defender, the lieutenant informed Captain Walton that he would keel-haul himself if he ever issued that bloody idiot a personal weapon again. “That is the fourth time his nerves have overcome him, and he’s shot something inappropriate,” Armstrong said in exasperation. “At least this time he merely hit himself. Next time I’m like to lose something far more valuable.”

As the lieutenant stalked off, and the strain on the two ships abated somewhat, Captain Walton pondered the event with a growing sense of unease.

The echo of that shot had shivered through the pirates toiling over the pumps and the ship’s masts like a strong wind. Heads had come up as hands moved convulsively towards empty scabbards. A growl of voices, like distant thunder, had swelled and faded again before the captive crew slowly subsided into an unconvincing submission.

Walton could recognize men labouring under orders they found almost unbearable.

And yet the elderly pirate who claimed charge of the Black Pearl did not seem a commander forged of sufficient fire and steel to hold such a crew to such a course. Could Sparrow do so from beyond a watery grave? Or was this unnatural calm evidence that the pirate captain was still alive to enforce some mad and nefarious plot only such a mind could conceive?

* * * * *

When no further shots had shattered the eerie calm of the ship, Requin had almost begun to relax.

Then the cabin door swung open to admit Banks.

Hargraves had been all bluster but no real threat, and Requin had almost believed the sensible lieutenant would be seeing to their disposition. Though if Captain Sparrow was not winning the day over on the Defender, he supposed even the lieutenant would be handing them over to be hanged for the entertainment and edification of the masses. But Banks was back, sweating and triumphant and tossing his bayonet onto the tabletop.

“All rounded up,” he said smugly. “At least all of ‘em still standin’. What a passel of cannon fodder! Scarcely a man of ‘em fit to straggle out on deck. No wonder they lost masts in that storm. The middies could have handled this capture by themselves. Course we haven’t found Sparrow yet. Wardroom’s thick with stiffs, but he ain’t one of ‘em.”

As he was speaking, he stripped off his crossbelts and sword and began unfastening his coat. “And now for the just reward after a long day and night’s work. While the cowardly bastard’s hidin’ out shakin’ in his boots—or feedin’ the sharks—I’ll be plowin’ a furrow with his heifer.”

Tense with the need to do something, but having no clue what it might be, Requin tossed an anguished glance at Anamaria. She was watching the two marines, her face carved in unmoving mahogany, her eyes black with fury. Requin, like every member of the crew, had felt the lash of Anamaria’s temper before, but he realized now that he’d never seen her really angry. Those had been short afternoon cloudbursts before this looming hurricane. He didn’t know whether to be afraid for her or for what she might do to those two unsuspecting English marines.

Hargraves looked torn between eagerness and reluctance. “Captain might not be so pleased ‘bout this, Banks,” he said worriedly.

“Captain’ll understand,” Banks dismissed his apprehension. “It’s been a long six months to depend on shipboard fare. And what does it matter who does what to this trollop? She’s naught but gallows bait anyway.”

He approached Anamaria, teeth bared in a predatory smile. “Fact is, she might appreciate tuckin’ a real man between her legs before she swings, won’t you, sweetheart? Considerin’ you’ve had to make do with that poor excuse for a painted popinjay, Sparrow, eh? Sounds good for a change, don’t it?” He grasped the blanket under which she was hiding and twitched it onto the deck.

“You piss more than you drink,” Anamaria said flatly.

Banks’s smile twisted into a snarl. “Oh, you have been fed with a fire shovel, haven’t you, you dirty slattern!” He gripped Anamaria’s hair at the back of her head hard, arching her neck back until she winced. “Now listen to me, you filthy little harlot. This can go one of two ways. Either you cooperate, and I make this easy for you. Or you fight me, and this is going to be very, very hard. Understand?” With his other hand he was ripping at the neckline of her shirt.

Requin saw every muscle outlined in Anamaria’s arms as she clenched her fists by her sides. He leapt clumsily to his feet, his hands bound behind him throwing him off balance. “No!” he shouted. “You cannot do that! She is not . . .”

“Shut up, Requin!” Anamaria’s command was quiet but so intense it stopped Requin dead in the water. “Don’t make a cake of yourself. Please. This is between me and this . . .” the air was thick with unshed words “. . . fine gentleman,” she finally finished, the irony dripping like vitriol. “Just . . . stay calm . . . and don’t do anything . . . stupid.”

“That’s a good girl,” Banks relaxed his hold on her hair. “I knew you were fly to the time of day.”

Slowly Requin subsided into the chair again, still holding Anamaria’s gaze. This was what Captain Sparrow had meant when he’d said it was hardest to stand by and not fight.

Anamaria nodded her approval.

Requin wanted to look away. He wanted to close his eyes and plug his ears. But if this was all he could do—be an island of sanity in this sea of madness for Anamaria to cling to—then that was what he would do. The captain had asked him not to leave her alone.

* * * * *

It took the crew of the Defender a stunned eternal moment to register that their ship had been inexplicably boarded by what seemed an unending swarm of enemies. One instant the decks had been clear and peaceful, the next they seethed with ragged, dripping bodies and flashing steel. The startled reports of pistols and muskets, the heart-stopping cries marking accurate shots, rapidly dissolved into the glittering clash of blades.

In the moments before the fighting became too fierce for thought, horrified realization struck Captain Walton. However impossible it might seem, the pirates of the Black Pearl had made it onto the Defender.

Anguish speared his heart as he saw how vastly outnumbered were his remnant men. Knowing the disparity between Sparrow’s crew and his own, he’d committed the majority of them to boarding the Pearl. All that remained on the Defender were a section of marines in her tops, several gun crews, his cook and artificer, and the ship’s boys. Thirty souls in all—enough to work the ship but nowhere near enough to quell such an invasion.

Their only hope of salvation lay in the men aboard the Black Pearl being able to cross back over to the Defender. But the pirates had already shoved the boarding planks into the sea and hacked away all but two of the ropes binding the ships together. Apparently Sparrow had also ordered his decks cleared of grapnels and planks, because Walton could hear Armstrong above the din bellowing for a search to be made for them.

Through the haze of rain and recoil smoke, he could see pirates stealing up the rigging, taking some musket fire, at least one falling into the sea, but overcoming his valiant marines before they could reload. Below, his gun crews were doggedly defending their charges, but they could not hold out much longer against such superior numbers. And the youngest of his crew. Walton felt sick. He could just make out tiny Teddy Parker, he of the golden voice and dancing feet, fighting gallantly but falling to two pirates twice his size, his perpetually grimy face streaked with the white tracks of tears as the villains wrestled him to the deck. What would become of the children?

And then the battle engulfed him.

Time for strategy ripped from their hands by this rapid attack, Walton and one of his two officers remaining on the quarterdeck emptied their pistols into the first pirate hat to show above the companionway. The shots hit home, flinging the hat helplessly into the melee in the waist of the ship. However, the head that should have accompanied it remained unscathed, appearing far below the upraised cutlass on which the hat had been perched.

Walton found himself facing the smallest man he’d ever seen outside a freak show. A single braid on his chin sticking out straight with excitement, blue eyes glaring, mouth distorted in a snarl, the little man attacked. Drawing his sword in a sweeping parry Walton sent his diminutive opponent reeling into the orbit of one of his lieutenants. But scarcely had Walton recovered from that encounter when a shout rang out: “’Ware, Captain!”

Whirling to meet the threat behind him, Walton’s stomach made a dive for the bilges.

The man was a giant. He loomed above Walton like a great bear, naked torso decorated with tattoos and scars, the glistening muscles of his arms equal in size to the Naval captain’s thighs. In spite of his great bulk, he struck with the speed of a cobra, what his bladework lacked in science thoroughly compensated for by the power and swiftness of his attacks.

Walton found none of his superior technique the least bit effective against an opponent who could continue an attack right through the parry that was intended to block it, as though the captain’s sword were a mere blade of grass.

Yet no expression crossed the man’s face. Silently and relentlessly, this Goliath of a man pursued his smaller opponent. As if, Walton thought wildly, a god, in hate of mankind, destroyed in such a shape.

The Defender’s captain knew he could not last long against such an adversary.

In the scramble of desperate footwork to avoid being cleaved in two like a beef carcass, Walton felt something in his protesting hip give way. Pain radiated like strokes of lightening, causing him to stumble and nearly fall to the rain-slicked deck.

The pirate’s blade narrowly missed removing the captain’s sword arm as Walton struggled to his feet, ignoring the agony twisting knives into his leg.

Inexorably, his colossal opponent forced the Naval captain back towards the taffrail. Fatigue began to stalk Walton, crushing his breath and filling his ears with the drum of his labouring heart. Sweat stung his eyes and the muscles in his sword arm quivered with the effort of withstanding the bone-jarring blows. He could not endure much more.

Twice more, Walton fell back against the deck for what he thought must be the last time, and twice again he managed to beat aside the killing stroke and regain his staggering footing. The third time, there was no mistaking it. Down on his knees, his sword hand pinned to the deck by one enormous boot, he saw the pirate’s cutlass descending in an arc he would never be able to evade.

Bracing himself for the bright, sharp impact of death, Captain Walton refused to look away.

Then the huge pirate’s blade stopped just short of Walton’s chest as a second blade snaked across his neck, biting the vulnerable flesh under which arteries pulsed in rapid counterpoint to his gasps for air. His sword was kicked from his nerveless grasp and his arm was wrenched back between his shoulder blades in a manner that drowned out the protest of his hip as he was heaved to his feet.

“Now, mate,” a husky, intimate voice breathed by his ear. “For two people who’ve never met, things have been getting a mite personal between us. You’ve been killing my men and trying your damnedest to take down my ship. So I thought it was about time we got to know each other.”

Jack Sparrow. It could only be he.

Somehow the pirate captain had managed to dissolve off the decks of the Black Pearl and rematerialize aboard the Defender. Commodore Norrington was right. There was something inhuman about the man.

Preferring a quick end to whatever vengeance Sparrow must surely be plotting, Walton made an abortive and entirely rash attempt to wrest himself from the pirate’s grasp.

“Unhand me, you bloody bastard!” he choked. Warmth trickled down his neck although as yet there was no pain.

“Owwww! Damnit, you mutton-headed gudgeon!” his captor swore. “Do you want me to slit your throat? Tearlach, hang on to this fool before he accidentally kills himself!”

Finding himself as thoroughly immobilized as a swaddled infant in the unyielding grip of the giant, Walton ceased to struggle and glared impotently at the pirate swaggering into view, worn cutlass blade continuing to radiate from the point where it touched his captive’s neck.

Curiously, Captain Walton scrutinized his arch-adversary, the legendary captain of the Black Pearl. Even amidst the horde of barbarically clad felons in the uproar of skirmishing, he drew the eye, a flickering flame of a man, sparks of colour glinting in his wild locks, gold flashing in his savage grin, perilous shadows lurking in his eyes.

“Let us keep this as civilized as possible,” the pirate addressed the Naval captain, all exaggerated cordiality and expansive gesture. “Since our mutual acquaintance Commodore Norrington is not present to do the honours, let me introduce myself.”

With mock courtesy, the pirate captain swept off his battered tricorn in a slight bow. “I am Captain Jack Sparrow, although not, alas, at your service.” He straightened with some difficulty and delicately replaced his hat. “Whom do I have the honour of addressing?”

“You whoreson knave! I'll see you hanged!” Walton spat, the urge to skewer the wretch stronger than his fear of the pirate’s intentions.

“Tut, tut, my good man.” Sparrow shook his head regretfully. “Manners must have changed a great deal since the last time I had call t’ use ‘em!” The enigmatic expression in his dark eyes grew more overtly dangerous. “You may want to consider carefully the fact that the man with his really quite serviceable sword at your throat is the same man you have been doing your very best to kill for the better parts of two days. You walk a fine line, Captain. My patience has worn thin.” His voice hardened like lava pouring into a cold sea. “Your name,” he insisted. The pressure increased to the point of pain on Walton’s neck.

In spite of his determination to show no weakness, Walton felt his treacherous stomach lurch. He had to buy Lieutenant Armstrong time to muster a counter attack. “My name, scoundrel, is Captain Alexander Walton,” he said, pleased that his voice did not betray the falling of his heart.

“Very good, Captain Walton,” Sparrow approved, relaxing his threatening cutlass. “I am afraid we shall have to dispense with the handshake.” He shrugged unapologetically. “No point in exhibiting that one comes in good faith and unarmed when one does not, eh?”

Several of the pirates within earshot guffawed heartily. That they had the leisure to do so was not a good sign. The fighting was decreasing rapidly as his men were overpowered, and Armstrong’s men were having difficulty aiming for the pirates on the opposite ship because the cowards were shielding themselves behind the Defender’s captive crew.

“I am very much afraid I shall have to order you bound,” Sparrow apologized insincerely, gesturing to his enormous minion to fulfill his word. “Vicissitudes of war and all that. I’m sure you understand. If you don’t put up a fuss, Tearlach will be careful not to break anything too valuable.”

“What do you want with my ship?” Walton demanded, ignoring the ropes being lashed around his wrists. Anything would be better than being manhandled by Sparrow’s monster, he decided.

“Correction. That would be my ship now, Captain Walton.” The smugness in Sparrow’s voice was unendurable. “She’s a sweet little brig. Though if you’re real reasonable, we might be able to discuss terms for you getting her back.”

Walton glared at the pirate with futile rage but could think of no response sufficiently scathing.

“And now Captain Walton, let us examine your situation for a moment, shall we?” Sparrow said. “It seems to me that you have a dilemma, don’t you?”

“That is an interesting way to put it,” Walton said attempting to match the pirate captain’s nonchalance. “My situation, as you call it, depends on what exactly your intentions are.”

“Just furthering your education, mate.” Sparrow’s fierce grin had far too much of the shark in it. “Now your crew is over there holding my Black Pearl. She’s dismasted and going down, and they have no guns. I, on the other hand, am in your former position—I can order these little cannon,” he waved his hand in the direction of the Defender’s guns, all in the hands of pirates now, “to blast your men to bits of blood and bone and gristle. It’s a hell of a feeling, ain’t it?”

“You wouldn’t dare!” It was less a statement of belief than a devout prayer.

The pirate captain closed measure with Walton until barely a hand span separated their eyes. “I’d not be so all-fire certain about what I would or would not dare, mate,” he said softly, his voice going dulcetly vicious. “I’m Captain Jack Sparrow—or haven’t you heard the stories?”

Walton had heard many stories, some more fabulous than others. Which ones were true was a question he wasn’t prepared to answer. But the one thing they all had in common was the fact that Jack Sparrow never quite lost a desperate gambit. He had the feeling the Defender was about to become another one of those stories if he didn’t think of something extraordinary very soon.

“Now Captain Walton,” Sparrow broke into his silence. “I’m taking a gamble that Commodore Norrington is a fair decent judge of men and that’ll make you a good man. So you’d best be praying I’m right, because we are about to see just how much your life is worth to your crew. I hope, for your sake, you’ve been fair to them.” Sparrow grinned madly at him. “So, Captain Walton,” he waved his hand in the direction of the Black Pearl, “I suggest that you have a word with your men.”

“My men know their duty,” Walton said with proud assurance.

“Ah, yes—to die for the sake of . . . what?” Sparrow asked impatiently. “That scuppered ship? The bit of swag drowning in her hold? Some misguided sense of honour? For the sake of what prize will you see them cold and bloody dead at your feet?” Anger licked at the edges of his words. “Let me chart another course for you. You order your men on the Pearl to surrender and all of us survive—or at least all of you survive and what’s left of us can go our way to live or die as fate sees fit.”

“I do not surrender to pirates, nor do I strike bargains with them,” Walton insisted doggedly.

“I’m not giving you that option, Captain Walton.” Sparrow’s tone was clipped and cold. “Your ship is mine, will you or nil you. My men outnumber yours. Whether you live or die will not change that fact. But as you wish.” He raised his hands in resignation and turned towards the Black Pearl, propelling Walton ahead of him to foil any attempts by Armstrong’s marines to pick him off with a well-placed shot. “I’ll have a word with your men.”

Aboard the pirate ship, Armstrong and his boarding party churned with frustrated violence, firearms aimed at the Navy vessel. At the first shots aboard the Defender, they’d immobilized the free pirates working to resurrect the Black Pearl. Only the men at the pumps remained, working resolutely at musket point. Sparrow’s sweeping glance took in the hair-trigger situation and alighted unerringly upon the man in charge.

Maintaining his one-handed grip on Walton, Captain Sparrow flourished his hat with the other hand. “Ahoy there, Lieutenant!” he hailed. “What say you to a bit of parley before any more unnecessary death and destruction occurs?”

“The only word I have for you, villain,” Armstrong’s retort blazed across the space of sea, “is that if you do not release Captain Walton, surrender your arms to him, and order your crew to stand down, I will kill every living pirate on this vessel,” he paused for effect, then delivered his coup de grace, “including the lovely young woman you have ensconced in your cabin.”

Walton started. What in hell was Armstrong up to now? What woman was this?

The pirate captain’s eyebrows flew up into his red scarf. “Now that’s a plan I hadn’t considered,” he said contemplatively. “Just what do you propose should be my incentive for doing any such thing? I might point out,” he offered with the air of a man dropping a bit of useful information, “that all I have to do is kill every Navy man on this vessel and set sail for the horizon leaving you to drown with my dead when the Pearl goes down.”

“Why only this,” Armstrong bared his teeth in a vicious grin. “You surrender, and we’ll let your woman go free. She won’t even come to trial for piracy.”

“And what if I’m not interested in your little exchange? ” A sneer curled the pirate captain’s lips. “That don’t seem like a fair trade to me. One senior naval officer, a handful of men, and a ship for a bit of a girl? Particularly since the rest of our necks are in the noose.”

The words were callous, cruel even, but Walton could feel the man who held him was quivering tense with an emotion that was not making it to his voice.

The muscles were working in Armstrong’s face. The man was not happy about what he was doing, Walton could tell. “Don’t give me that, Sparrow,” his lieutenant barked. “The longer you hold out, the less likely that young woman will remain in one piece.”

Captain Walton was horrified. Since when had the Navy been dealing in female hostages like—well—like pirates? “Captain Sparrow,” he hissed. “Please believe me, I had no idea . . .”

“Keep your mouth shut!” Sparrow snapped, his cutlass returning to Walton’s throat. Walton shut up.

“Now honestly, lieutenant,” the pirate captain spoke with sarcastic condescension. “Are you actually expectin’ chivalry from a pirate?”

He had been, actually, Walton realized. They’d all heard the stories about how Sparrow had rescued the Governor’s daughter at the risk of his own life.

“I’ll tell you the truth, mate,” Sparrow continued. “Not because you deserve it, but because she does. Anamaria is not ‘my woman.’ She belongs to nobody but herself. She is a member of my crew, first mate on my ship, and that is all. And if I let you use her to trap us again, she’d kill me. Besides, I’m not so certain you have her as captured as you think you have.” Thunder began to prowl in that voice. “So let’s just get one thing straight before you go trying anything stupid. I will do whatever it takes to make absolutely certain that you will never take that ship and that none of my men or women will ever hang on your gallows. And that includes blowing the Black Pearl to the depths, myself. Surrender and your captain goes free, your crew is unharmed and your ship will be returned to you with enough sail and provisions to make port. Which is mighty reasonable of me considering what you were planning t’ do to us if it were the other way around.”

Lieutenant Armstrong glared at the pirate holding his captain. “You’d never fire on your ship,” he stated confidently. The stories of Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl were even more legendary. “I’m calling your bluff, Sparrow. Surrender now, or my men open fire.”

“I’m not a fool, Lieutenant,” the pirate said coldly and even a touch sadly.

He turned his head towards his men on the guns, and his shout of command nearly deafened Walton. “Fire!”

Fire belched from cannon mouths, the guns lunged in their carriages, and cannonballs whistled across the decks of the Black Pearl and through her ravaged hull.

Walton felt each thundering shot vibrate through the man that held him captive, as though it brought Sparrow physical pain to attack his ship.

Again and again the powerful guns spoke.

Walton shuddered. When had their perfect trap turned into such a nightmare? He’d done everything right, but here they were in the clutches of this madman, who seemed capable of any atrocity.

Silence and a haze of smoke descended.

“Well, Lieutenant?” Sparrow asked mildly. “Shall I continue?”

At that moment a scream echoed from the captain’s cabin aboard the Black Pearl.

The grip on Walton’s arm tightened like a vise until he thought the bone might crack. He noticed that Armstrong also looked taken aback at the sound. A second, higher pitched scream started and refused to quit. Walton felt the bruises forming on his arm, but he was too horrified to care.

“Go ahead, Captain Walton,” the pirate said, loudly and clearly enough to be heard over that frightful noise. Walton marveled that his voice remained steady. “Give the order before anyone else gets hurt. You can always chase me another day, but you can’t raise the dead, nor can you come back from it.”

The screaming stopped as abruptly as it had begun.

There was only one thing Captain Walton could honourably do at this point. “Of course Captain Sparrow,” he said quietly. “Gentlemen,” he raised his voice to carry across the Black Pearl. “I see no other reasonable alternative. I am surrendering the Defender and this crew to Captain Sparrow, requesting that he honour his offer of mercy and offering him all assistance in the restoration of his vessel. We are not savages. Let us endeavor to remember that.” He met his lieutenant’s shocked gaze. “And for God’s sake, Armstrong, see that no further harm comes to that poor woman!”

“Sir, believe me, I only gave orders that she was to be guarded!” Armstrong lit out for the cabin at a run.

Walton found himself suddenly a freed man again, except for the bonds on his wrists, as the pirate captain leapt to one of the boarding planks that materialized in front of his feet barely in time to prevent him stepping off the ship into the sea. He bounded up the jouncing narrow strip as though it were level ground. Walton followed him, ignoring his decreased ability to balance, determined to know the worst. “I assure you, Captain Sparrow,” he growled, “the men who did this will feel the lash.” He only hoped the pirate captain would not take matters of justice into his own hands.

Armstrong was already in the cabin, but a young pirate was bolting out the door, his face pale. Sparrow halted him, which proved to be a mistake, as the lad threw up on the deck plates at his captain’s feet. Walton felt sick. What had his men done?

Sparrow, on the other hand, seemed perfectly calm. “Easy now, Requin,” he soothed. “It’s all over. How many of them did she kill?”

Requin gulped and took a deep breath, “None, sir.”

“None?” Sparrow looked surprised and alarmed. “Either the lass has learnt patience or this is going to be even uglier than I thought.”

“Sparrow!” Walton exclaimed. “You don’t mean to tell me you think a woman has bested my men.”

“Walton,” Captain Sparrow said tiredly. “She’s not my first mate because I like the look of her face. If your men threatened her and she let them live, they’ll be wishing they were dead about now. I’d best go see if I can detach her from visions of slaughtering the entire British Navy.”

The incredulous Walton followed the pirate into the cabin and halted in consternation. Whatever he had expected to find, this was not it.

In the midst of the ruined splendour of what had once been a beautiful room, on a bloodstained bed, lay a young mulatto woman, quite lovely for all of that, and quite evidently the victim of an attempted rape. Her shirt was ripped at the neck and part of her breeches had been cut away, exposing a great deal more of warm brown curves than he needed to see after six months at sea. What had attracted his men was immediately obvious.

But there the comprehensibility of the scene ended.

For all that she was suffering from a dreadful injury, the girl’s face was twisted into a snarl, and she was propped up on one elbow training one of his own men’s rifles on Lieutenant Armstrong who had his hands raised. A gory knife lay quick to hand at her side.

On the mahogany-paneled wall near the bed, one of his marines was pinned through the shoulder by a long dagger. The man was ashen-faced and bleeding profusely, but he tried to nod and smile at his captain. On the spoilt rug beside the bed lay another of his men, curled up into a tight ball of agony, breathing in a high-pitched whistle. His half-clad appearance proclaimed him the culprit in the assault on this woman, his breeches bunched around his ankles.

And there was blood where a man didn’t ever want to see blood.

“What did she do to him?” Walton exclaimed.

Sparrow shook his head resignedly. He held out one hand and pantomimed a scissoring action. “Snip, snip,” he said. “Man ought to have known better. He won’t be tryin’ that again.”

Walton didn’t blame the boy who had vomited. He felt quite ill himself. “That is barbaric!” he choked.

“Oh?” Sparrow raised an eyebrow at him. “And what he was doing to her was so very civilized. At least he’ll live. Geldings and bullocks do all the time. I thought she would slit his throat.”

The pirate captain strode quite nonchalantly up to the hellcat with the rifle. He crouched briefly to sweep up a fallen blanket. “It’s over now, Ana. They’ve surrendered. You can stand down.” He put out a hand and with a single finger tipped the barrel towards the deck.

Lieutenant Armstrong heaved a relieved sigh and backed carefully away.

Then the pirate spread the wet blanket over the woman he claimed was first mate of the dreaded Black Pearl, shielding her from Royal Navy eyes. Gently, he pried her fingers off the weapon and removed it from her bloodied grasp, but he didn’t touch the knife.

Turning to frown at his new wall decoration, Captain Sparrow settled on calling for assistance. Several burly pirates appeared, including the giant. Together they made short and uncompassionate work of removing the two injured marines.

Captain Walton was relieved when the pirate captain indicated that they were to leave the cabin. He didn’t think he could have endured the silent blistering hatred in that young woman’s eyes one minute longer.

* * * * *

Outside his cabin, Jack Sparrow found Peytoe observing the relocation of the offending marines to the Defender. The cook nodded towards the planks understandingly. “Laid a hand on the lass, din’t he?

“He did,” Jack affirmed, scowling at the disappearing Banks.

“Missin’ some bits, in’t he?” Peytoe persisted.

“He is,” Jack agreed with some satisfaction.

“Told ye,” Peytoe nodded again, pleased with his powers of deduction and with the universe for following its own rules.

* * * * *

Anamaria needed to kill something, but even the ship’s rats were surely drowned. Unfortunately, the seething violence trying to split her skin did not seem likely to find an outlet anytime soon. It was with relief that she heard Captain Sparrow returning.

Jack’s face appeared, peering tentatively around the doorway. “All right if I come in, love?” he asked with unwonted gentleness.

“’S your cabin,” Anamaria shrugged.

Jack entered, his arms bundled with what she recognized was her only spare clothing. “Thought you might like these,” he offered diffidently. But there was something ominous at the back of his eyes, like lightening flickering on the horizon.

Anamaria took the garments from him, searching his face for clues to the cause of that far-off storm.

For once, Jack didn’t leave her guessing. “That waste of a marine did not . . . ,” he paused, uncharacteristically searching for his choice of words, “. . . accomplish his mission?” he finally finished.

“No,” Anamaria said shortly. She didn’t want to discuss Banks at all. “Your little firestorm interrupted his—concentration.”

“How fortunate for him,” Jack said. His fingers brushed the hilt of his cutlass, then subsided.

“I know you didn’t want bloodshed on the Pearl,” Anamaria began, not sure what she wanted to say to the captain.

“If you hadn’t,” Jack interrupted her, in the light, dry, colourless tone that always took a half-hitch around her spine, “I’d have done it myself.”

Anamaria shivered. She wondered what Jack would have done to Banks had the man succeeded in raping her. Then she was glad she didn’t know. There were times when Jack Sparrow could be more dangerous than any other man she’d ever met.

For a space of time measured in heartbeats, Anamaria met Jack’s unnaturally still gaze. The breeze, stealing in through the shattered hull, the lifting and subsiding of the sea, were the only movements.

At last, Jack broke the silence before it became too burdened with the things that lay unspoken between them. Not sure whether she was sorry or relieved, Anamaria watched the mask of the Black Pearl’s mad captain slip down over his features.

“I’m off to do a bit of shopping aboard the Defender,” Jack said, his jauntiness reanimating. “Does the lady have any requests?” He bowed grandly to her, the effect somewhat spoilt by a grimace of pain.

Glancing down at the knife she was still unaccountably clutching, Anamaria remembered Jack’s last gift giving. She met his eyes again, her lips peeling back over a vulpine grin. “Diamonds,” she said firmly. “Diamonds will do.”

Captain Sparrow’s gaze flicked from the bloody blade to the splash of gore on the bulkhead where she’d run Hargraves through. One eyebrow climbed under his scarf. “Diamonds it is, love,” he said hastily and backed out the door. “I’ll do me best!”

* * * * *

24 Strength by Limping Sway Disabled
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