The Black Pearl mistakenly kidnaps the wrong person: Kate Harper, a woman with her own past that she is desperately trying to escape. With no where else to go, she's gradually accepted as a member ...
Gibbs collided with his captain, in the doorway of the Great Cabin.
“Sail, ho, Cap'n!” the first mate reported, skidding to a stop.
“So I hear,” Sparrow replied, brushing past Gibbs. “Is it the Melody?”
“Dunno, sir, it be fair difficult to say, from this distance.” He answered to his captain's back as they both stomped up the gangway to the quarterdeck.
Snatching the spyglass from the binnacle, Jack snapped it open and peered through the eyepiece. He could see the aforementioned ship, double masted, silhouetted sharply against the horizon, shimmering slightly in the heat waves of the mid-day sun.
“Aye, it's the Melody.” There was a definite satisfaction in his voice. “We've got the angle on 'em, too.”
“That we do, sir,” Gibbs agreed enthusiastically, observing with his bare eyes. “There'll be no escapin' us now. The Pearl can out run anything!”
Jack cast an eye upward to the sails, twisting his head a bit.
“We can come up into the wind a bit more; trim the foreyard to larboard. I'd like to get a bit ahead of 'em if we can.”
“Aye, aye, sir!” Gibbs turned to face the deck below. “Trim the foreyard to larboard!” he bellowed.
“Trim the foreyard, aye!” came back in chorus as the crew scattered.
“Here, man,” Jack muttered, elbowing the helmsman aside from the ship’s wheel.
The wheel felt good in his hands. The Pearl always seemed to react differently with his hand there, settling into her course with more determination, anxious to please. He could feel her respond to the trim, the bow rising with the increased pressure on the sail, the rudder vibrating just that bit more, as she gained speed. The wheel was the Pearl's heart beat; he could feel when she was at her best; he could also feel when she could do better.
“Ah, we're gaining' on 'em now, sir!” Gibbs beamed, his wide mouth breaking into a smile.
Jack's eyes never left the horizon, his hands working the helm, adjusting the wheel to slight variables of the breeze and wave, keeping the Pearl at her optimum.
“We'll be on 'em soon,” he told Gibbs. “I'd like to do this with as little shooting as possible; no sense in accidentally killing someone.” He paused, as he leaned quickly into the wheel, to compensate for a gust of wind. “We'll luff up on her port quarter, blocking her wind. They'll have to heave to, then.”
“A full stern attack would be a better shot,” Gibbs warned.
“I don't want to blow them out of the water, I just want to stop them. We steal her wind…”
“She’s dead in the water; like a worm on a hook” Gibbs beamed, nodding with approval. “Aye, yer always a-thinkin', Cap'n,”
“Brace the larboard guns; alert the gun crews. Prepare to board, pistols and cutlasses, just in case. Remember to tell the boarding party whom it is we seek. And haul out the colors; maybe we can scare them into just surrendering.”
“Chain shot, sir?”
“No!” Jack replied, quickly. “I don't want to disable her, just stop her.”
A quick nod was the first mate’s dismissal and he scrambled away.
The Melody was well within sight in a short time. Ant-like, the crew could be seen scurrying about her decks; well aware they were to be prey. A heavy merchant she was, and no match for the Black Pearl. Her sails were full, tightly trimmed and bearing well, but she was about to be outmaneuvered. Casting an eye upward, Jack watched as the banner unfurled, the huge black flag bearing the portentous skull and crossed swords. Pirates! It put the fear in many a ship, often enough to intimidate them into surrendering before a shot was fired. He hoped it would work now.
“Mr. Cotton, take the helm!” Jack had barely spoken before Cotton's hand replaced his on the wheel. “Keep her up sharp! As close as we can, man.”
Cotton nodded mutely, the parrot on his shoulders wavering with the movement.
Jack stood at the rail, watching as they bore down on the Melody. Bugger! She was opening her gun ports. This wasn't going to be as easy as he had hoped.
He felt the first salvo from the Melody's guns before he heard it, whirring harmlessly. He was half down the gangway as the Black Pearl curved into position for her attack, the deck listing hard with her momentum. With a measuring eye, he watched and waited as the Pearl drew up behind her foe. His heart was beating faster now, but only with anticipation. Fear for himself hadn't visited him before a fight since he was a third mate. He would have preferred to take the Melody/] without a battle; hostages he wanted, that was all. Cannon fire and deck battles had no pinpoint accuracy; it would be a damned shame to kill the very people he sought.
The [/Melody was closer now; he could see the individual faces of her crew, eyes widening with panic as the black-hulled pirate ship loomed up behind them. His ship’s sails would steal the Melody’s wind, but the advantage would not be forever, only for a few fleeting minutes, as long as the Black Pearl was upwind. Once her momentum carried her past, the wind would return to the Melody's sails, and she would be able to make her own advantages. That, however, would be just after the Pearl had unleashed her first, and hopefully quelling, cannonade.
“Steady, mates!” he shouted to the gun crews.
His eyes on the Melody's sails, he waited for the instant her sails luffed, the first hint of wind starvation.
It always struck Jack odd how in battle, he lost all concept of time. Was it ten minutes ago, or was it an hour, since the Melody fired her first shots? Often, he had a sense of stepping out of his own body, becoming a third person, observing from a distance, watching the fighting dispassionately. He seized a rope and swung from the rail of the Pearl across to the deck of the Melody, his sword ready, not sure how he came to it.
The sounds all ran together; men yelling, blades clashing, his heart pounding. Somehow, the smells seemed more separate: gunpowder, sweat, blood and fear. Strange, fear did have a smell of its own, and he could definitely smell it on the aboard the Melody.
He launched into sword fighting almost immediately. Deck battles had their unique rhythm, and he fell into it easily; twenty-odd years at sea had its benefits. With three or four slashes of his blade, he dispatched the first assailant with a wicked slice to the arm, already forgetting the victim’s face. Moving down the deck, he confronted another of the Melody's crew and dispatched him as well, finishing with a sharp, downward jab with the hilt of his sword to the jaw of the seaman.
From the corner of his eye he caught movement that was not the norm, something different, a rhythm, a shape. Pausing in his advance down the deck, he squinted through the gun smoke. Bloody hell! It was a woman, bearing a sword. Her form wasn't very good, but she was effectively holding off her attacker, one of his own crewmen, Baines. She defended relatively well, her eyes intent on her foe's weapon, but she was allowing herself be backed into a corner.
Jack narrowed his eyes, tipping his head, as he watched. There was a ghost about her, a bare glimmer of something familiar, distant, too ethereal to be identified. Baines took advantage of an instant's loss of concentration, stepped forward and knocked the woman in the head with the heel of his sword. Standing over her, the pirate looked up to see his captain watching. Baines shrugged, clearly embarrassed at having fought with a woman, and went on to his business down the deck.
Fighting continued, but the Melody's fate was a foregone conclusion. Jack could already feel the advantage shifting to the men of the Pearl. He was still making his way down the decks, hoping to find either the captain of the Melody or any of the hostages he sought. Pivoting as he fended off a blade, he caught the motion of a figure on the quarter rail. It was the woman again, teetering, trying to hold her balance. Gazing down at the water, she seemed inclined to jump, but was clearly undecided. Just then, a ball from the Pearl’s swivel gun ripped through the rail only a few feet from her, shattering the wood, an explosion of splinters. Maybe it was the impact, maybe it was debris, or maybe she jumped. Flailing, she lost her footing, skirt snagging then ripping away, as she fell from sight.
“Hoy!” Jack bellowed, waving his arms to the Pearl. “Get her!”
Two crewmen looked over the rail, exchanged looks, leaped to the rail and dove, Jack reaching the Melody's rail just in time to see them enter the water. The woman was already several feet from the ships; face down, floating among the flotsam. Watching long enough to see her safely in tow, he returned his attention to the battle on deck.
Time remained suspended. Was it a minute or was it an hour? The clank of swords, pistols and all manner of weapons falling to the deck announced the surrender of the Melody. It was over.
The captain of the Melody stepped foreword of his crew. Not much older than Jack, sweat plastered his shirt to his body, breathing hard from exertion. Bloodied cheek, and knuckles, he touched the brim of his hat in salute.
“What will ye be requirin’ for my crew to live?” he asked with a level gaze.
“We seek your passengers,” Jack demanded, sword still dangling from his hand, wiping his own sweat from his face with his sleeve.
“We have no passengers,” the captain replied evenly. “We’re a merchant.”
Narrowing one eye in calculation, Jack stepped closer, leaning in as he spoke.
“We have need of your passengers,” he repeated, flashing a broad smile, but continued, through clenched teeth. “I think you have some very particular passengers, they are, in fact, particularly special in their particular destination. In view, of the particular position in which you find yourself, in particular, I would think, it would be of particular interest to you, to produce these particular passengers, savvy?”
He punctuated his finish with another broad flash of teeth.
“Cap’n! Capn!” It was Gibbs, calling from the rail of the Pearl.
“Aye, Mr. Gibbs,” Jack called back, eyes locked on the hostage captain.
“You need to see this, sir,” Gibbs called back, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.
Jack poked his own thumb at Pintel, one of his own crewmen.
“Carry on!” he barked. “Confine the prisoners; search the ship for anyone else and take what you may. Bring anyone you find to the Pearl.”
He turned on his heel heading for the rail, silently swearing to himself.
What in bloody hell could be so all fired important to disrupt trying to take hostages!
He grabbed a rope, and swung back to the Pearl. He had enough faith in his first mate's judgment to return to the Pearl, without question; Gibbs wouldn’t have interrupted, unless it was important.
As he stepped down onto the deck of the Pearl, he could see the crumpled form of the woman abaft, near the sea ladder, lying in a pool of water, a piece of canvas draped over her. Several crewmen circled around, two of them dripping wet, all bearing an odd scowl as they gazed down at the woman—somewhere, between disgust and sympathy.
Gibbs looked the most stricken of all. On one knee, near the woman, he looked up as Jack approached.
“Is she breathing?” Jack asked, still several strides away. It was quite possible the near impact of the cannonball had rendered her unconscious, or she may have drowned from the fall.
As soon as he asked, he heard coughing and sputtering from under the canvas.
“Aye, a little.” Gibbs nodded, his heavy grizzled brows knit together. He hesitated then gestured to Jack with a tilt of his head. “Ye need to see this, Cap’n.”
Gently, he lifted one corner of the canvas.
Jack’s first impression was of a length of thigh, and an even more enticing curve of bare hip. Her skirt was gone and her shift had been torn nearly in half, the length of her. Then he saw what Gibbs was referring to: an appalling display of scars, criss-crossing her abdomen; deep and ugly, overlapping each other, thick and stark. He could see, at first glance, they were old, healed many years ago, but the sight of them was still stunning.
“Mary, Mother of God,” Gibbs whispered, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Was she flogged?” queried one seaman.
“Nay, that’s a knife,” answered another.
A guttural growl of revulsion rumbled through the group. Jack swallowed hard, speechless. Scars were certainly nothing new to him, or anyone else on deck. Fact was, he had his own sizable collection, as did every man present. What was new, and markedly disturbing, was the viciousness with which these scars had been inflicted. Someone had used a knife, all right, but they had enjoyed it...and they had done it to a woman.
“But then, ye need to see this,” Gibbs added, shifting his position to an opposite corner of the canvas.
As he lifted the other corner, he gestured a nod to one of the crewmen, who knelt and carefully lifted one shoulder from the deck.
Another scar ran vertically from the top edge of her shoulder down to well below the blade, nearly touching her ribs. At least two inches wide, it seemed the perfect image of…
“A dragoon’s saber,” one of the crew observed, finishing Jack’s thought for him.
“Aye, that’s what it ‘pears to be,” agreed another, grimly.
A deeper murmur of disgust emitted from the circle of men.
As the canvas was lowered, the woman began to wretch and gag. Not unconscious, she was clearly dazed, unaware of her whereabouts. Thrashing feebly under the covering, she tried to lift her head, but failed and it fell to the deck with a soft thud. Clutching her arms around herself, she choked and gurgled, wheezing for a clear breath.
“Poor lass,” Gibbs murmured, lost in his own thoughts. “Seems the world has been considerable unkind. Doesn’t hardly seem fair. What could one woman do to deserve all that?”
Jack finally found his voice, clearing his throat loudly before he spoke. “Take her into my cabin; put her in my bunk.” His voice sounded strange to himself, thin and hoarse. “Make sure she’s warm.”
“Now, what?” Jack muttered irritably to himself, as he strode back to the rail.
“There’s no one else aboard, ‘cept the crew,” called Marty, one of his own crewmen, from the Melody. “We’ve looked from crow’s nest to bilges.”
“Collect the swag, and disable the guns,” Jack called back, turning to Gibbs. “Run a damage check; be sure to take anything we need for repairs.”
“Was it a wild goose chase, Cap’n?”
“Dunno, Master Gibbs,” Jack answered thoughtfully, turning his head toward his cabin. “Perhaps, we have what we seek and just don’t know it, yet.”