Chapter 2 - Exchanging Salvation
The gaze of Davy Jones drifted from his key, dangling openly over the waves below, to the wider battle around them, as if seeing it for the first time. No progress had been made on either side, with men stabbing his crew and his crew stabbing men to little effect.
"CREW OF THE DUTCHMAN, CEASE YOUR EFFORTS!" he shouted above the din of battle. "CAPTAIN'S ORDERS!"
"LIKEWISE, MEN!" shouted the man he'd been fighting. "SHEATH YOUR SWORDS AND SAVE YOUR SHOTS! DON'T WASTE BULLETS OR POWDER!"
It took a bit of time for the orders to spread, but soon the fighting came to a halt. When it had, the shimmering moon shone upon them all.
The Captain of the Flying Dutchman was accustomed to winning battles at sea with ease; no crew could survive for long in the face of an undying onslaught.
No crew except, apparently, one that was itself undead.
For the first time in many decades, the Captain of the Flying Dutchman experienced shock. It was completely unfamiliar territory, and in a moment of frightening empathy, Davy Jones knew how other sailors must feel when faced with his crew. The men upon the Wicked Wench – each and every single soul save one – had transformed into living corpses the moment moonlight touched their flesh. They shambled and shifted about, making clicks and clacks instead of grunts and groans. Skin shriveled and dried, hair withered, bones became exposed, and eyeballs alone were the only organs left.
"The moon reveals us for what we are," came the voice of Barbossa. The captain was the same as his crew, tall and terrible as a living nightmare.
If his own crew could not have been called the same, his own blood and heart not run cold so long ago, Jones might have been afraid.
"We are the dead among the living, wearing skins of men like crabs wearing shells, empty husks with naught but bare bone underneath. Lifeless until the curse is lifted, but deathless as well."
"Deathless?" Jones asked, his lips popping.
His eyes were once again upon Barbossa and his key, which should have been his goal, but he found himself distracted. He could always sink this ship with the Kraken and retrieve his key afterwards... as Bootstrap suggested he do from the start.
"Deathless like William Turner?"
The eyes of the corpse who claimed to captain the Wicked Wench could not widen at the moment, but perhaps they would have if they could have. "Where did you hear that name?"
"From the mouth of the man who owns it."
"Bootstrap appeared before you in the Locker?" The man's eyebrows had suffered a similar fate to his eyelids. They would probably be raised if he still had them. "But that couldn't be..."
"No," Jones denied. "I sought him out where no living soul should have been. The sea is my domain, the souls upon it my responsibility. Especially those lost or foresworn."
The undead captain stroked his beard with bony fingers, saying nothing, but looking as intrigued as a skeleton could be.
"Salvation was offered in exchange for a hundred years of service before the mast of the Dutchman. William Turner accepted, and he has remained on my ship, a part of my crew ever since."
"The Curse of the Dutchman trumps the Curse of Cortez?" the Captain of the Wench asked curiously. He twisted the key in his bony fingers, the metal making a click click click noise as his digits deftly twirled it. "Or is old Bootstrap now bound by both?" The key clicked upwards. "Flesh of fishy gray by day, beneath sun's golden rays..." The key clicked downwards. "Bones of ivory white by night, beneath moon's silver light..."
Jones rose a curious eyebrow. That's how the man had survived at the bottom of the sea? The 'Curse of Cortez'?
The powers of the Dutchman allowed him keen sight at will, as if looking through a spyglass in all directions. Bootstrap had remained on the Flying Dutchman and was easy to spot, being one of the least transformed of his entire crew.
"Mr. Turner wears skin, not bone," Jones observed. "Even now."
The key paused mid-clink. "So he's a man of flesh and blood again? Capable of bleeding, is he?"
"Aye..." Jones answered slowly, confused.
"Then I know what I want in exchange for this key..."
"What's the key for?" Pintel whispered to Ragetti as their captain attempted to haggle for the soul of their salvation.
"No idea," Ragetti whispered as he plopped his wooden eye back into his socket. It had fallen out during battle, and he'd only just now managed to retrieve it.
"The key unlocks the Dead Man's Chest," answered their Bos'n, the only member of their crew not bound by the Curse of Cortez.
"What's in the chest?" Pintel asked eagerly. "Treasure?"
"Aye," nodded Gibbs. "The chest is where Davy Jones keeps his most precious possession."
"Gold?" Pintel asked eagerly. Joshamee Gibbs shook his head. "Jewels?" Gibbs shook again, his face grave.
"Somethin' far more precious."
Ragetti shuddered. "Nothing... bad I hope."
"His heart," Gibbs whispered back.
"You mean..." Ragetti paused. "Literally or figuratively?"
Pintel scoffed. "He can't have literally put his heart in a chest," said the walking, talking, shambling bone man. "...Could he?"
"No. I will not surrender the soul of William Turner in exchange for my key."
Barbossa's eyes narrowed now that they were able to do that again. "Why not?"
Davy Jone's eyes glinted with malice. "When you succeeded in your mutiny against Jack Sparrow, Captain Barbossa, you inherited a debt. The Wicked Wench belongs to the Locker. Unless that debt is paid, it is the Locker to which this ship shall return. The soul of Jack Sparrow, one of the nine Pirate Lords – that is the wagered price."
"Bloody idiot," Barbossa cursed. "Bargaining his own soul for a ship. Even if it is the Black Pearl. What a fool."
"Indeed," Jones nodded. "The key will only square the ship's debt. Return it to me, and you may keep... the Black Pearl."
"What of Bootstrap?" Barbossa demanded. "What would square his debt?"
Jones put on a considering look. "I might consider trading one soul for another. Retrieve Jack Sparrow, and I shall reward you with what you seek."
Barbossa scoffed. "I've no intention of hunting down that guttersnipe. He's more slippery than an eel."
"So you surrender your chance at salvation?"
"No, I believe other... leverage could settle this matter," Barbossa said, using the term he had well learned from the son of Bootstrap. He continued twirling the key in his fingers.
Jones seemed to consider Barbossa for a moment, then laughed. "In that case, you possess one item I wish to have. I, however, possess two things you desire: true ownership of this ship, and the soul of one William Turner." The fish man smiled cruelly. "In exchange for returning my key to me, you may pick one. Not both. When you choose, I shall retain or obtain the other. Henceforth."
In other words, if Barbossa chose Bootstrap the Black Pearl would be instantly repossessed and his crew would be stranded in the middle of the ocean. Well, not the middle, since they were near Port Royal... home of the largest navy fleet this side of the Spanish Main... which he and his crew might be unable to defeat without the speed and resources aboard the Pearl...
(If the enemy had overwhelming numbers and thought to use rope and chain instead of sword or bullet, as Norrington surely would, a crew of the undead could be defeated, bound, and detained. He had once learned this the hard way, and it was only thanks to Jack Sparrow's bumbling idiocy / mad genius that he and his crew had gotten out of that pickle. This was the true reason Barbossa harbored no intention of hunting him down. They used to be friends, and although his betrayal had caused them to become bitter rivals with bad blood, they now had enough mutual respect to keep their distance and humor no requests to sell out the other.)
"Your decision?" Davy Jones pressed. "Ship or soul?" The tone of the question gave the impression that the choice between sailing and salvation was only being offered out of spite.
"Is your key not more valuable than both?" Barbossa angrily inquired. By now clouds covered the moon again and he was able to convey his outrage with facial expressions.
"A hundred years of service is a valuable thing," Jones shrugged, "as is the fastest ship on the seven seas. Together they outweigh the key, as much as it... wounds me to say it." To his now-existent ears, that last part did not sound genuine in the slightest.
Barbossa tossed the key to Jack, who scampered away on the ropes above. "And if I refuse the terms?" he demanded, pulling out the sword lodged in his chest to emphasize his own immortality.
Jones simply laughed. The fish man took a menacing step forward, and Barbossa reacted without thinking. It was only after he had plunged the sword (which had originally belonged to Davy Jones) through the dead man's chest that he remembered why it wouldn't work. Before the Black Pearl's Captain could react further, Jones grabbed Barbossa's hand, put something there, and stepped away again. As the Devil of the Seas returned to his old position, he pulled the sword out of his chest and returned it to its scabbard.
Barbossa opened his palm to see what Jones had put there, and a black mark slowly appeared upon it.
"Agh!" came the voice of his boatswain, whose curiosity had led the man to approach closer than any other crew member. "The Black Spot!" The man then performed a brief ritual involving a dusting of his clothes, spinning in a circle, and spitting. The idiots Pintel and Rhagetti mimicked him, setting off some of the other crewmen to do the same.
The fish people laughed.
Their captain did not.
"Then I retake both key and ship with my Kraken," Jones spoke, deathly serious. "Your crew's mortality – or lack thereof – will not hinder my pet. I admit it would be a great deal more effort, retrieving the key afterwards, so I would prefer to avoid that measure."
Barbossa inspected his hand, frowning heavily. As long as the Kraken was on the negotiating table, he did not hold the advantage.
"My beast will follow the Black Spot wherever you sail," spoke Davy Jones. "I shall only remove it once my key is returned."
Barbossa's deep frown deepened. For a brief moment, he wondered if the Spot would disappear when- But even as the thought came to him, the moon emerged from the clouds once again. When the skin of his palm vanished, the Black Spot seeped down to stain his bony carpals and metacarpals.
The Spot could not be removed by the Curse of Cortez. It ould only be removed by Jones.
That left him no choice but to consider the offer.
Without Bootstrap, he and his crew would never be free of the curse – not for those hundred years of service Bill now owed the Dutchman. And possibly not even afterwards, for Barbossa knew not precisely how the Curse of the Dutchman worked.
If the Curse of the Dutchman replaced the Curse of Cortez, then Bootstrap may very well die of old age after a hundred years. His blood would become irretrievable.
If the Curse of the Dutchman removed the Curse of Cortez, then Bootstrap's blood may no longer work to lift the curse in the first place.
But if they didn't free him and try, they would never know. They had already retrieved his coin long ago. They only needed the blood. No Bootstrap, no blood.
Without the Pearl, on the other carpals, he and his crew would be stranded in the middle of the ocean. Without a ship, it wouldn't be easy to make it to the Isla de Muerta with Bootstrap in tow, especially if Bootstrap himself was no longer cursed. Still, with their own curses, there were work-arounds. They could salvage a dingy and rope, walk on the seafloor themselves, and use the ropes to pull Bootstrap while he sat in the dingy above, perhaps... though they might then be stranded on the Isla de Muerta after they lifted the curse... still, losing the Pearl might not be an impossible problem to solve. Losing Bootstrap would be an impossible problem to solve.
Keep the Pearl, keep the Curse forever. Take Bootstrap, take their chances. Only one of the options offered even the hope of salvation, but that option was unacceptable. It was no wonder Jones had made the offer. It was cruelty incarnate.
And so, in the face of these impossible odds, Barbossa did what pirates do best.
"The key is not the only thing you might desire to possess. I hold another."
Davy Jones barked out disbelieving laughter. "And what might that be?"
"I hold one of the nine Pieces of Eight," Barbossa spoke with all the dignity of a Pirate Lord, "stolen from a member of the Third Brethren Court."
Davy Jones almost certainly knew what the Pieces of Eight did – according to legend (i.e. Gibbs), he was the one that taught the First Brethren Court how to bind his love, and so he should know what was needed to unbind her as well.
"And since thievery is an acceptable means of inheritance among Pirates, I am now the ninth Pirate Lord."
The Captain of the Flying Dutchman seemed surprised at first, but then he spat. "It matters not if you speak true. Why should I desire one of those accursed things?!"
As Jack Sparrow might say, Barbossa had to convince Davy Jones that Davy Jones did, in fact, want Barbossa's offer.
"If you, Davy Jones, wish to have the freedom to decide the fate of the one you love, you must possess all nine Pieces of Eight. This you know. But if you wish to ensure that she is never free again, you must merely possess one."
Jones' eyes widened, just as they had when his first attack failed to kill Barbossa. It seems this thought had never occurred to him. Even if he knew the facts of the matter, he must not have realized he had the power to hold the fate of his love in his own hands. For if the Piece is separated from the Lord, it loses its power until it is returned, or stolen again by a new pirate. And without every Piece in the possession of a pirate, she cannot be freed.
"I can return your key in exchange for possession of the Pearl," the Captain of the Black Pearl continued. "And I can offer you my Piece of Eight in exchange for Bootstrap."
Barbossa did indulge in poetry from time to time. The cure to one curse (Bootstrap's blood for Cortez) being exchanged the cure to another (a Piece of Eight for Calypso) sounded just right.
"The Piece is useless without the Lord to which it belongs," Jones said with a frown.
"That be the point," Barbossa grinned. "Though if you're sayin' you want my help in releasin' her, you have my word I'll play my part if you ever ask it of me."
"You would forsake your duties to your precious Code?" Jones demanded.
"When you have rules without consequences, all you have are suggestions. That's why the Code is more..." Barbossa grinned, "guidelines than actual rules."
"Surrendering your piece will have heavy consequences."
"But not thanks to any action taken by those who uphold the code," Barbossa grinned slyly. "That is why they are suggestions. They can be followed or ignored at a pirate's discretion, though ignoring them is hardly ever a good idea for the pirate who does so. In this case, however, the consequences of forsaking my duty are mostly in my favor, and yours. After all, it was for your sake that the duty of the Pieces of Eight was established, not ours."
There was a long silence, as Davy Jones weighed his words.
"And you offer your Piece in exchange for salvation," Jones observed, a hint of appreciative admiration in his tone.
"Indeed," Barbossa inclined his head. "Though of course I won't be tellin' you which piece I hold until Bootsrap goes free. If I be a liar, you can sink the Pearl with your pet, and take my soul as payment for his."
The Pearl's crew looked to their captain in fear, shock, and awe. Half were afraid of the Kraken, Barbossa knew, while the other half were moved by what they saw as their captain taking a selfless risk for their sakes. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Either way, he would be free from the Curse of Cortez.
Barbossa extended a hand – the one with the Black Spot. "Do we have an accord?"
Jones considered Barbossa's hand and words for a long stretch of silence, many emotions warring on his face. Eventually, grim determination won out, and they shook.
When their hands un-clasped, the Black Spot was gone.
"Ragetti!" Barbossa shouted at the same time Jones called "Bootsrap!"
The unwitting holder of one of the nine Pieces of Eight was pushed forward and shoved by his companion Pintel, while the owner of the blood needed to the lift the Curse of Cortez was pulled forth and summoned by the Curse of the Dutchman. When it was clear neither crewman had any other options, they both stepped the extra few feet forward to stand before their captains.
The moon emerged from the clouds.
"William Turner," intoned the Captain of the Flying Dutchman. "You are free to go." Starfish and barnacles suddenly sloughed off of gray skin, then gray skin sloughed off of white bone. Where there used to be a fish man, there now stood a skeleton. Barbossa chuckled grimly; it seemed the Curse of the Flying Dutchman did not remove the Curse of Cortez - it only temporarily overrode it. Jones raised an eyebrow, curious at the sight himself, but his gaze quickly returned to Barbossa. "The Piece," he demanded. "And my key."
Barbossa slapped the back of Ragetti's exposed skull and caught the wooden eye in one bony hand. His other held a peanut in the air, which was eventually taken and replaced with a key.
Eye and key were exchanged for man and ship.
Jones secured the key in the hole in his chest, so it could never be used against him in such a manner again, and put the eye there as well.
Barbossa bowed sincerely to the Lord of the Seas, then turned to Bootstrap. "Well, Bootstrap? Will it be the brig, or the crew's quarters?"
And the Black Pearl went on to terrorize the Caribbean, its crew invigorated by their returned life. For difficult raids, they would occasionally re-Curse themselves, to ensure their victory.
But they always made sure to lift the Curse before celebrating.
And the Flying Dutchmen went on in search of the remaining eight Pieces of eight, starting with Jack Sparrow's. As usual, Jones would occasionally offer a place for his victims on his crew, to ensure its longevity.
But he always kept the Pirate Lords themselves- well, all but two of them- in his Locker, safe and secure.
Just in case he one day decided to forgive her.