The French had evaded them for months. The Royal Navy had set sail, led by one up-and-coming Captain James Norrington, around the sunny end of springtime. The wind now had a cold sting to it as James stepped out of his cabin, and they could only thank God that the shores surrounding Tortuga where they were currently sailing rarely ever saw snow.
James was never one to wear his heart on his sleeve; on the contrary, he preferred to keep his feelings bottled up deep inside so that he merely forgot they were there to begin with. But even the crew could catch on that something was irking their captain. He paced a little more pointedly, he regularly toured the ship with dark circles under his eyes, his temper had grown short. They hadn't made any progress in months, sailing aimlessly around the globe searching for privateers that James wasn't even sure existed anymore.
Even now, as he stood by the side of the ship, inspecting the darkening horizon with his spyglass, frustration began to creep up his spine. He knew his superiors had to be impatient by now. This particular French privateer had robbed the Crown of a fleet's worth of wealth, and while they hadn't been very clear or demanding in terms of his deadline, he just knew that he was overstepping.
He pocketed his spyglass with a small glare to the growing clouds, crossing to the starboard side when a spit of land just barely came into view. Ordinarily, he would have noted it in the log and kept on the course, but behind it (did he dare believe it?) there was a white flash of sails. It was enough of a spark of hope for James.
He turned to the helm and cried, "There! Do you see it?" The helmsman hesitated, earning him an impatient "Now, Mr. Smith!"
Smith hurriedly changed their course, sending them straight towards the island as it slowly began to rain. The clouds that loomed overhead churned and rumbled, but James could not be bothered. He gripped the rail until his knuckles turned white, setting his jaw and watching the slowly approaching land with an unforgiving glare.
A bolt of lightning struck in the distance, and a gentle rain quickly turned into a merciless downpour, clouding their view of the island. Smith almost spoke up in regards to this, but as if James could read his thoughts, he barked over the rain, "Onward! If there is a hope the French are there, we cannot let this pass us!"
Smith almost spoke, but held his tongue. Surely their captain knew better; surely there was some grand design he just couldn't see. He kept the ship steady despite the roaring wind, keeping the bow pointed squarely forward.
The waves grew higher around them, remaining just manageable enough. Water sloshed across the deck, knocking a deckhand onto his face near James' feet. He tugged the boy to his feet, who in turn dashed below deck with a cautionary glance backwards. James turned back towards the rail, holding onto it with both hands.
The ship rocked and dipped in the waves, blown one way by the wind but forced in another by Smith's firm grip on the helm. Smith gritted his teeth and called down to James, "Sir, I can't hold her on course for much longer! We've got to lower the sails!" James braced his feet on the deck as he faced the helm, shouting, "We will do no such thing! We have to harness this storm to our advantage!"
The other officers on the poop deck watched on with concern as Smith yanked the helm back into place and said, "I don't think the ship can take this much longer!"
James marched up the stairs the best he could against the rain, one hand on his hat to keep it somewhat in place, and yelled above the wind, "You will keep those sails raised or you will be relieved of duty!" Another officer stepped in, placing a warning hand on his shoulder and saying, "Christ, man! Can't you see the ship is struggling? Lower the sails or the ship will capsize!"
James faced him silently, steeling his gaze as his heart hammered in his chest. If they did not overtake the French vessel now, there were good odds that they would lose them in the storm. He couldn't risk another wasted month.
"Captain, the sails won't hold against this wind!" Smith said, desperation leaking into his voice. James didn't respond, staring rapt at the nearing glint of French sails through the thick sheets of rain. One of the other officers pushed past him with a huff, calling out to the crew, "Lower the sails! Quickly now!"
The crew ondeck scampered to the rigging, slowly climbing up to the sails in fear of being blown off of the lines. James met the officers' gaze, keeping his expression blank before moving back to the rail. He watched the gleams of white through the storm, his pulse thundering in his skull. His thoughts were an endless torrent of 'we've found them, at long long last we've found them', and his nails dug into his palm in some small attempt to anchor him to the present.
Another bolt of lightning struck near the island's shore, followed close behind by a deafening clap of thunder. James was soaked to the bone, his dark hair plastered against his neck and forehead, but in that moment he almost felt like the King of England.
The Dauntless grew closer still, and the French sails came clearer into view-
Revealing five warships, readying their cannons.
He cried for the crew to come down from the rigging as the French advanced forward, and the crew below deck rushed to ready the cannons, but well before they were prepared, the lead ship began their onslaught.
Cannonfire tore through the Dauntless. Chain shot shredded the rigging and splintered one of the masts, sending men into the unforgiving waves. The storm above them raged, and James could only watch in horror as the ship and his men were destroyed.
The combined cannonfire and thunder rang in his ears, sounding like the gateways of hell, until it hardly registered to him when the deck below his feet and the railing he held in his hands exploded in a hurricane of splinters. An overwhelming pain washed over him as he was thrown over the side of the ship from the force of the blow.
The water was freezing when he hit the surface, drawing a loud gasp as all the air rushed from his lungs. As he struggled to breathe, the stabbing pain in his chest grew, and he looked down with watery eyes to see a large piece of wood protruding from his uniform. The water around him was quickly turning red.
His limbs grew heavy as he looked up at the pathetic remains of the Dauntless, sinking slowly into the gulf as the blinding pain and merciless cold overtook him.
Water filled his lungs and he sputtered weakly, blood pouring from his mouth and chest. His muscles screamed for oxygen, and his mind begged him to swim back up to the surface, but the strength he had left bled out, leaving him sinking slowly to the bottom.
Lightning crashed but all he could hear was a faint clap as the water numbed his senses. The shadows of the ships above him grew as his vision began to fade.
His eyes lulled shut and the last thing he heard before he lost consciousness was a voice, garbled by the water but beautiful and alien. It sounded like an angel, and he was powerless to resist the draw of her song. He was pulled into cold arms, and in that moment he was sure death had welcomed him.